note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey
Timberlake Wertenbaker uses stories to make strong political statements. Like her moving OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, THE LOVE OF A NIGHTINGALE (which debuted as a teleplay on British TV) centers around noble characters taken out of their element. Wertenbaker uses Ovid’s ancient tale of transformation to speak to any age. The male (Greek) chorus begins the play by stating that “War makes death acceptable.” You can be sure Wertenbaker will make the case against just that pronouncement. Her clever “myth” about war and truth and silence resonates especially now that we are at war with an ancient culture.
The Hovey Players’ production is well acted, with a lovely performance by Sally Dennis as Philomele, the princess who is violated and silenced by a repressive government. Director Luke Dennis gets strong work, too, from Julia Van Daam as Philomele’s wronged sister, from Dorothy Ahle as Philomele’s nurse and from Nora Jane Williams as the child who pays for his father’s brutality.
The entire cast handles Wertenbaker’s lyrical language with aplomb. Unfortunately, the endless scene changes stop the play’s momentum. Large, unwieldy black flats (which looked to me like they would fall at any minute) are turned end to end, then placed in parallel formation, then moved to the side and front to suggest different playing areas. This dark, tragic tale is so dimly lit that I couldn’t see the difference.
The beauty of theater is that you can get away with a black box and lighting to change locales—which is a lot less obtrusive. Truth be told (since that’s the point of the play) while they were moving those flats, my mind wandered to another production of Ovid’s stories. Paul Eiseman’s luminous New York production of MYTH trusted the audience to suspend their disbelief and revel in the language of theater.