note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi
Ymma … Marianna Bassham
Agnes … Anne Gottlieb
Eadric ... Christopher Michael Brophy
Silence … Emily Sproch
Roger … Michael Kaye
Ethelred … Lewis D. Wheeler
Theatregoers who cannot get enough “edgy” theatre should enjoy Moira Buffini’s SILENCE at New Repertory --- it begins with the leading lady vomiting down a well while her sidekick introduces themselves to us --- Ms. Buffini, a British playwright largely unknown in America, promises to be the next Caryl Churchill with her feminist slant on medieval times: Ymma, a fiery Norman noblewoman and the daughter of a saint (which one?), is banished with her lady-in-waiting Agnes to an England ruled by the fey Ethelred who commands that Ymma marry the fourteen-year-old Lord Silence of Cumbria. Roger, a self-tormenting priest, marries the incompatible couple and, on their wedding night, Ymma learns that her new husband is not at all what he seems yet they bond, anyway. Lord Silence soon yearns for Ymma’s bodyguard Eadric while Eadric openly lusts after Ymma, and Agnes and Roger start making sheep’s eyes at each other... All but Ethelred flee to Cumbria through war-torn countryside thanks to Viking invaders, pursued by the King who murders and pillages en route to claiming Ymma for himself. Ms. Buffini begins with an Absurdist vaudeville laced with anachronistic humor (I expected cell phones to pop out at any minute) but her quirky charm soon bogs down in the mud and the sweat and the lust and the murders and concludes with a giggling moral that though women may dance to men’s tune, they can still win the game through their silence. I sat through it all rather silent, myself.
Rick Lombardo has directed from a rather cold corner and Cristina Todesco has designed an ugly world that the A.R.T. would envy which includes a clever-clever evocation of a rainstorm; the mood-setting mists drifting over the audience are sneeze-inducing. On the afternoon I attended, halfway through the run, Mr. Lombardo’s ensemble was winded from all that declaiming and romping about and my heart went out to them since they had an evening performance only hours away, followed by a matinee the next day. Still, they trudged on together the way dog-tired soldiers do, save for Lewis D. Wheeler’s sprightly Ethelred, a Hasty Pudding send-up of Richard II; Mr. Wheeler’s still-boyish charms are drawn upon for some wickedly amusing moments --- his upper register is a Shakespearean no-no but such vocal straining adds to the King’s still-childish personality.
Marianna Bassham tends to play all of her roles as a Shrew looking for her Pertruchio and her Ymma is more of the same. Christopher Michael Brophy’s Eadric is another one of his swaggering badboys; may he balance them with more dapper portrayals as handsomely demonstrated in the Stoneham’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. (Ethelred and Eadric each take a stage-leak, facing upstage --- pity that Ymma didn’t do likewise as a bad-taste, feminist joke.) Emily Sproch makes a convincing Lord Silence, hard and grim, so that the role’s sudden revelation does indeed come as a surprise, and Michael Kaye’s Roger is one shtick-turn after another. Anne Gottlieb’s Agnes reveals her as a character actress-to-be, stripped down to near-plainness but, fear not, Ms. Gottlieb lets down her hair at the end and remains one of Boston theatre’s loveliest presences --- that simple moment is also SILENCE’s one true bit of theatre magic.