note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
We’re unsure whether Canadian playwright Chris Craddock has a goal in his fractured fairytale comedy, “Indulgences,” that’s making its New England premiere at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, but we’re acutely aware that his play and this Boston star-studded cast evoke laughter,
Perhaps Craddock’s goal is only that - to make us laugh - in this farce that’s allegedly aimed at certain hypocrisies, including tyranny, regicide, patricide, greed, homosexuality, and more, in which he mixes a Shakespearean theme with modern theatrics, a goofy go-round of mistaken identity and silliness, punctuated with heavenly sound and lighting effects.
It’s unsettling to enter the theater and find a man, dressed in a suit, lying on the stage, face down. As we get seated, the man shifts position but remains on the floor, barely moving. Is he drunk? Did he pass out? New Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Kate Warner, who directed this production, ignores him during her welcoming speech. The lights dim, then the fun begins.
We’re in an upscale bar, where the sleeping man arises, splashes water on his face, then greets the colorless bartender, as he gulps down glasses of Scotch. He’s a salesman of sorts, selling “indulgences,” or insurance policies, so people can avoid purgatory or hell after committing transgressions. His orders, allowing humans to exercise free will, come from the Big Guy himself, who makes occasional thunderclapped, brightly illuminated, vocal appearances throughout the play, thanks to Karen Perlow’s lighting, David Remedios‘ sound design and original, scene-changing, dramatic music. Molly Trainer’s clever costumes that delineate royalty from commoners, ancient and modern times, and Peter Colao’s set, are a wacky mishmash.
There’s also a touch of “The Prince and the Pauper,” when a king, dressed in a suit and tie, and an engineer find themselves acting identically, simultaneously, and agree to take each other’s places, to prove nobody’s different. As plots unfurl and become messy, the Salesman revokes and replays them, rewinding an unseen tape, as the actors re-run several scenarios.
This talented cast: Steven Barkhimer as the bartender and regal advisor; Leigh Barrett as the queen/plotting advisor; Neil A. Casey as the engineer-turned-king; Benjamin Evett as God’s unctuous salesman with a conscience; Ed Hoopman as Malcolm, the gay prince; Tony Larkin as his lover, Fleance; and Joel Colodner as the real king, has superb comic timing.
“Indulgences” isn’t for everyone. Some people loved it, while others were less enthusiastic. However, it brightens a stormy winter day, and anything that makes audiences laugh in spite of today’s tragedies and travesties can’t be bad.
BOX INFO: Two-act, 1-1/2-hour comedy, written by Canadian playwright Chris Craddock, appearing through February 6 at the New Repertory Theatre, ., Watertown. Performances are Feb. 3, 4, at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 5, at 8 p.m.; Feb. 6, at 3:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$54.; senior discount, $7 off; student non-rush, half off; student rush, $13. Call or visit .