note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark
by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Robert Saxner
Set Design byHeidi Meisenhelder
Lighting Design by Jeri Sykes
Stage Manager Matthew Breton
Assistant Stage Manager Kathy Moyer
Light & Sound Operator Leila Choudhury
So says the "I Ching" and it's true for theater in Boston. Even as the wrecking-ball was destroying The Actors' Workshop digs at 40 Boylston Street, Frank Storace was moving it to a bigger, brighter, shinier, higher home just across the bridge from South Station at 327 Summer Street that even has parking and an elevator. The fourth floor features not one but TWO theatre spaces (50 and 100 seats) plus a film-making sound stage, and right now TWO plays: John Patrick Shanley's darkly uncompromising love-story "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" and the magic-infested "Adventures of The Great Gorgonzola and His New Assistant". The Actors' Workshop is again alive, and well, looking better than ever, and eager for fresh new audiences brave enough to cross that great water in search of great theater.
And Shanley's play is exactly the same sort of surprising, off-beat, unique theatrical experience that the old Boylston Street walk-up was famous for: a pair of actors willing to reach deep within themselves to find the surprises lurking in two defensive, hesitant, vibrantly alive characters. (Hell, even the set harbors a surprise!)
The play opens in a shadowy bar where two people who would rather drink alone are forced to take adjacent tables in a cramped alcove. There seems no good reason why they would even start talking, let alone continue, but the playwright, the Director Robert Saxner, and Susan Gross and Michael Avellar all slowly, almost imperceptibly move this pair from aggressive defensiveness to eruptions of self-confession, to a bedroom, and maybe even to hope. Bruised and guilty though they may be, their yearning toward acceptance is what drives them together.
Michael Avellar's Danny fights at the slightest provocation in order to justify the contempt with which he's always been treated, and finds it hard to admit a yearning for acceptance and pride. Susan Gross' Roberta punishes herself for what she knows is unspeakable sin, though she is brave enough to reveal her softnesses when she can't hold them back.
Heidi Meisenhelder's set here is amazing. For scene one, the walls of the bar constrain and restrict the pair, who are still cramped within themselves and hiding in Jeri Sykes' gloomy lighting. For scene two, with the pair waking up in bed, the room is open, airy, with sky-blue walls and what seems like a picture-window turned to the audience. It's almost as though once this pair has "done the love" their entire universe changes with them. What starts as an impossible confrontation emerges, by slow, careful degrees, as a hotbed of genuine affection.
The other show at The Actors' Workshop could be called a comedy. "The Great Gorgonzola" is really the great Donatello Collucci, who literally does magic tricks right in your lap, while musing on his past life, and trying to break in a new Assistant. This show, again, is unique. I saw it originally in a Watertown basement with an audience of about six. As illusion follows illusion, and eggs appear and disappear everywhere, the constantly re-written plot wanders through time --- and the novel trickery is continually surprising.
You do have to cross "the great water" but what's across that bridge from South Station is The Actors' Workshop --- a Boston institution since 1956! So, trust the "I Ching" and, GO!