A Comedy by Odon von Horvath
Directed and Produced by Kay Muhlmann
Chief Dissector, Veteran, Judge.....Barry Zaslove
Baron, Chief Inspector............Joseph Bukovski
Assistant Dissector, Marie...........Susie Lumley
Judge's Wife, Daring Rescuer.........Ruth Markind
Shop Owner, Policewoman............Faith Faulkner
Working Class Woman..............Martha Muehlmann
Sometimes its not the actors' fault.
Director/producer Kay Muhlman obviously loved "Faith, Hope, and Charity" by his Austrian compatriot Odon von Horvath (1901-1938) and worked long and hard with the cast for more than two months to bring the play --- subtitled "A Little Dance of Death" and called a comedy --- to the stage. Notes from both director and cast members speak of "exploration of the language, every word in all possible meanings, and the background of the play and of each character" and finding that "Every moment, every silence is more important than any given word." Obviously a cast with considerable talent and experience worked very hard to make certain that every shred of serious emotional message implicit in the script got emphasized on the stage of the Charlestown Working Theatre.
But they never got a chance to go on and make these characters interesting people.
At the start of the play a very young woman tries to sell a sort of "futures contract" on her own cadaver to a dissection factory because she needs $150.00, and when she can't she comes on to a dissector who decides showing her his aquarium would be worth loaning her the money --- which she says is the cost of a license to sell lingerie door-to-door. Later he finds that the shop-owner has loaned her the fee, because she needed another $150.00 to pay a fine for selling lingerie without a license, so he has her thrown in the clink for 14 days for fraud. She becomes mistress of a beat-cop who pays her $20.00 a week and says he loves her, though he spends more time digging dirt from between his toes than making love. When his captian, suspecting she's a prostitute, finds him in her room and explains that her police record could torpedo his career, he drops her like a stone. She jumps into the river, but a daring lifesaver drags her out and she's revived long enough to curse both her paramours --- who just happen to be passing by --- before her heart fails.
That's not exactly the plot of a comedy, but the playwright insisted "All my comedies are tragedies --- they become funny only because they are sinister. The eeriness has to be there." Well perhaps, but humanity has to be there as well. The cast managed to call up emotional states on cue, but never linked them with realistic behavoirs. Much of the time they stood, ponderously pausing between lines or within lines to emphasize the import of their speeches.
But there was laughter, though much less because things were eerie or sinister --- simply because they were odd. The policeman's inexplicable indifference to a very pretty, amorous bed-mate because he hadn't had his coffee was incongruous. Earlier, her seduction of the dissector seemed sudden and graphically obvious --- why straighten a stocking that has no seam? The CPR performed on her was pretentiously slow and ludicrously without the attention of anyone standing around talking. And with actors pausing at every cue to indicate "now I am going to say something Very Profound" or "watch me do a Very Surprising Thing" audiences were given lots of time to wonder what on earth all those oddities could mean.
Of course, the play is very German, and very, very Weimar Republic. (The whole play looks like improvs for a production of "Cabaret".) There are references to The War and to rampant poverty, while the rich or the powerful treat lesser beings with cruel contempt and obey their betters with heel-clicking slavishness. The heroine calling her father an "inspector" lets people think him a government official instead of an insurance flunky, and this is the "fraud" that brings on disaster. Despite references to "dollars" and shoulder-patches from the Portsmouth, N.H. police force, nothing looked either very American or very contemporary.
It might have been better had the director loved the play a little less, or if after spending two months learning what every word was supposed to mean, they had taken a third to learn how to make those meanings come alive in bealievably real people. But this, of course, they were never asked to try.
Sometimes, it's not the actors' fault