note: entire contents copyleft 2005 by Will Stackman
Reviewed by Will Stackman
For three out of the last four years, entrants from B.U.'s SFA Graduate Playwrighting Program, have won the KCACTF National Student Playwrighting Award down at the Kennedy Center, including last year's entry, John Kuntz's "Jasper Lake". You can't win 'em all. This year's entry, Ryan Bradley Smith's "The Red Lion" is a promising piece still in need of serious pruning and a stronger dramatic arc..
The production, which runs one more weekend at BPT is competently directed by directing fellow Lenny Lebowitz, who's focused on characterization. The set was done by Tijana Bjelajac and rather neatly combines the show's two locales: the Golfers, a pub originally called The Red Lion, and the Stanley's living room. The transparent back wall transitions from glass bottles behind the bar to wire-frame-outline bottles and a splotch of wallpaper, behind two chairs and a round table which work in both locales. (Better execution of the wire silhouettes might make the background more effective, given the realism of the props and furniture.)
This script is first and foremost an extended character study, with types recognizable to anyone who's watched enough BBC drama. The situation would in fact support a mini-series, which is part of the problem. Most of the scenes are written at the same comfortable and leisurely pace.
The cast does their best to particularize their characters, and it's no surprise that the three older professionals are more successful at it than their student compatriots. Robert Bonotto, one of Boston's better underused character actors, is quietly conflicted as Mike Dunbar --- the owner of the pub, who bought the place after WWII and just stayed on feeling less and less satisfied. Floyd Richardson, (who walked on a lot in "Hamlet" on the Common this summer) is salt-of-the-earth as his old friend John Stanley, a local bus driver. As Emma Stanley, his wife, Leslie Harrell Dillen (who played "Dressed Up! Wigged Out!" at BPT last winter) is an excellent foil for her brusque husband.
The younger folks become more problematic. A senior in BU's Theatre Arts program, Daniel Owen Dungan, is their son George, a thirty-two year old bachelor accounts manager at the local bank. He comes closest to achieving the depth which seems to come naturally to the older actors. He doesn't quite have the age down, though his physical presentation is effective.
Back over at the pub, Kate Opiepka, another BU student, is less successful as Clare MacEwan the barmaid, who's essentially the same age as George. Playing young while being older is a difficult trick, and she's been directed to scamper about just a bit too much. Of all the characters, she benefits most from costume changes. Indeed, perhaps too much of the costuming for this show seems to be from the actor's own wardrobes. Similarly, Mathew Peterson, as Ben Weston, a real estate broker from London, could be more appropriately dressed and less actually boyish. On the other hand, Jared Craig as Richard Montague, the somewhat dim kitchen boy, fits his stereotyped role quite well. All these young acting students are definitely up to par, but the disconnect between them and the older, more professional actors, doesn't support the underlying melancholy of the script --- which could in these circumstances, give them more to work with.
There are two more new scripts in BPT's New Works series this fall. Zayd Dorn, whose "Haymarket" was so effective two years ago, is back with a Mametesque piece, "Permanent Whole Life" with Ken Baltin as Mort, a longtime claims adjuster. Then in December, Dan Hunter brings in "Red Elm" featuring William Young as "Big Jack." This piece sound like a cross between O'Neill and Willams --- with a twist. Both shows will be directed by Suffolk's Wesley Savick, who just did "Theatre District" for Speakeasy and appeared as the doomed Parsons' in "Haymarket."