note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Plum, an inspector … Erik Rodenhiser
Topsy, a reveler … Dorothy Eagle
Lady Laetitia … Jennifer Wilson
Lord Withers, her escort … Jim Butterfield
The Waiter … Steve Walsh
Hubert, an escort … Mark O’Donald
The Duchess … Kristine Burke
Sneak, a private eye … Bob Karish
The Salem Theatre Company is a company without a home but it has its eye on Salem’s Old Town Hall in Derby Square and for two weekends the company performed in the Hall’s courtyard A. P. Herbert’s 1920s farce TWO GENTLEMEN OF SOHO, free to the public though donations were most welcome. Mr. Herbert had written a mock-Shakespearean romp about a Scotland Yard inspector and a private eye, each on a mission, clashing in a speakeasy over a dowager who has succumbed to the Jazz Age, much to the shame of her socialite daughter who slums in the same dive, herself --- the evening ended in a hilarious bloodbath whose final tableau put the Bard to shame. TWO GENTLEMEN OF SOHO was clever-clever fluff and Mr. Herbert, whoever he was, was a good-enough playwright to know how to write deliberately bad soliloquies, duets and ensembles, and John Fogle --- still one of the area’s finest directors --- staged it with the same customary care and detail as he does with his more substantial, indoor productions. His cast was no less exquisite, proving that it takes as much passion to mock-declaim as to declaim, seriously, and they remained stylized in the midst of late comers crossing their lines of vision, zephyrs that threatened to blow apart their makeshift setting, and the unexpected appearance of a tourist horse-and-buggy, followed by its hasty retreat down an alley (cloppity-clop) --- a day in the life of a strolling player. The Derby courtyard had no acoustics to speak of, thus, those who declaimed the loudest made the more lasting impression: the Inspector of Erik Rodenhiser, an ever-amazing chameleon with a profile that is both handsome and a send-up of handsomeness, Bob Karish’s sleuth, right out a penny-dreadful, and, especially, the booming Kristine Burke as the Duchess, a dainty dragon that only a Dickens could love (a priceless moment: Ms. Burke shifted a corpse’s leg ever so slightly to give herself more room for expiring). Audiences who prefer to hear all of their actors might well consider a donation to the company’s Setting the Stage Campaign and help to bring these actors into the Old Town Hall sooner than later. Donations may be processed through the company’s website (http://www.salemtheatre.org/).
Salem continues to cast its spell on the American imagination even though it now bustles as one of Boston’s bedroom communities --- for the record, one can enjoy Salem for her winding streets, her architecture and her statuary, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are quite charming (doubly so if you can climb aboard Mr. Rodenhiser’s CHRISTMAS CAROL trolley ride); still, it is witchcraft that put Salem on the map and it is (commercialized) witchcraft that brings in the dollars and Mr. Rodenhiser is currently offering his own spooky introduction to the town, EERIE LEGENDS OF SALEM, at his Griffen Theatre: for a quarter of an hour, one of the Griffen actors will beguile you with haunting tales (suitable for young children), backed by a most ingenious set-and-lighting design, all the more amazing when done on such a modest budget and on such a tiny stage. Two seasons ago, I described Mr. Rodenhiser’s GHOSTLY MANOR as “a blend of Victorian barnstorming and modern-day tongue-in-cheek … you [will] jump at least once then chuckle afterwards for having lowered your guard” --- happily, the verdict still stands, here. Further up the street, Richard and Susan Metzger continue their Hocus Pocus Evening Walking Tours where the curious are led around the immediate neighborhood after sunset and into the dark corners of Salem’s past; you soon realize that Salem’s true magic lies in the juxtaposition of bloody or ghostly deeds that occurred in the midst of self-righteous and, later, genteel society --- the resulting mood is positively Lizzie Borden-esque. Both Mr. Rodenhiser and the Metzgers’ offerings can be enjoyed, here and now --- Salem: it’s not just for Halloween, anymore, no more than the Yuletide season is the only time for peace on earth, good will towards men.