note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
I’ve said it ad nauseum. No matter how superb a play, its director and cast are, or how magnificent its set, sound and lighting effects, it falls flat when theatergoers can’t understand actors’ phony British dialect, nor distinguish their words.
It’s even worse when the best thing said about the production is the set.
Such is the case with Chris Ostrom’s marvelously picturesque, functional set in Stoneham Theatre Company’s 2-1/2-hour production of Tim Firth’s 1992 dark comedy, “Neville’s Island”. Firth is perhaps better known as the screenwriter of “Calendar Girls” and “Kinky Books,”
“Neville’s Island,” a British farce set in November, mid-1990s, is about four office managers participating in a team-building nature retreat in England’s Lake District, when their craft capsizes, and they wash ashore, one by one, on a foggy island.
None of the men are prepared campers, so despite their modern equipment, like cell phones, they’re ill prepared to handle the elements - or each other.
And they all have quirks. Each character has his own baggage, and I don’t mean backpacks.
Their antics hit absurdity, from bird-watching, fragile Roy’s (fabulous Brooks Reeves) sitting perched in a tree, in his underwear, to Angus (Jim Loutzenhiser) pulling out super-duper gizmos and gadgets he bought at a specialty store. Meanwhile, rotund Gordon, (Brandon Whitehead) berates them all, and nebbish Neville, (Alexander Platt) captain of their team, is deeply apologetic about his snafus.
And what about Roy, you ask? Amid this chaotic male bonding mission, we learn he had a nervous breakdown, has recovered, and is a practicing Christian, who prays, says grace, and thanks God.
Gordon, whose sarcasm slices with rapier speed, says he only goes to hotels. He’s angry about losing his gear in the lake. Easygoing Angus is overly prepared. He sparingly pulls out his bag of tricks, utensils, and a salvaged sausage, angering Gordon even more.
Angus has called his wife, Julie, who’s always in the house, telling her to contact rescuers for the guys. Thing is, Julie isn’t home, so Angus leaves a message, opening up the opportunity for Gordon to cast suspicion on her and her whereabouts.
And emotionally fragile Roy? Don’t ask.
The plot sounds good, right? Initially, it seems downright entertaining with this super cast, directed by Stoneham Producing Artistic Director, Weylin Symes. Their screaming at each other. facial expressions, definitive body language and comedic timing are great, but not enough to appease some angry theatergoers, who complained at the box office - and to each other- about the actors’ dialogue. Firth’s play is, indeed, a British farce, but it could easily have been set in New England, or anywhere else, that doesn’t require forced accents.
Other disgruntled theatergoers seated in the rear and sides of the theater (the balcony was closed last Saturday night) nodded off, despite, Brendan Doyle’s thrilling sound and Ostrom’s lighting effects, like wild birds screeching, helicopters hovering, rescue boats with loud speakers, swirling spotlights, thuds, and more.
BOX INFO:Two-act, 2-1/2-hour play by Tim Firth, appearing through April 26, at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $45-$50; seniors, $40-$45; students with valid ID, $15. Visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call the Box Office at 781-279-2200.