Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Fen"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Fen"

by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Michael O'Halloran

Original Music by Steve Gilbane
Set Design by Joanne Savage
Costume Design by Sarah Pruitt
Lighting Design by Kathy Maloney
Stage Manager Michael Alfred Makowski

Japanese Businessman/Nell/Mavis/May.....Jennifer Jones
Frank/Mr. Tewson/Geoffrey.................Ciaran Crawford
Val............................................................Nicole Jesson
Shirley/Shona/Miss Cade............................Ann Leacock
Angela/Deb/Mrs. Finch...........................Lynne Moulton
Wilson/Margaret/Ivy...................................Cyndi Geller
Mrs. Hassett/Becky/Alice........................Mel Yiasemide


For a group that grew out of cabaret productions, Le Black Kat has chosen as its second major production a bruisingly expressionistic play with an axe to grind. There are swatches of incidental music by Steve Gilbane that underscore this kaleidoscopic flurry of short scenes illustrating the grinding effect of low wages, increasing rents, and grueling labor on both tenants and landowners in England. The small cast play children, workers, mothers, men or bureaucrats in quick, poignant succession --- all of them at the extreme emotional edge of hopelessness.

Caryl Churchill's script documents family break-ups, verbal abuse of kids, suicide, long hours of backbreaking work in howling storms, and the stolid indifference of government to the economic causes of pain. Several story-lines are scattered through the play, attention jumping from one to another like quick-cuts in a movie documentary. And just about the only tools the cast has to establish all this in the tiny Leland Theatre space at the BCA is mime, and intense emotion. Ciaran Crawford (the only man in the cast) and Nicole Jesson play a pair of poverty-crossed lovers whose kids must stay with a vindictive Gram. None of the workers, or their families, want to leave the farming life and land; the owner doesn't want to sell out to the government and become a mere manager of failing farms; yet every year rents go up, and wages go down.

Kathy Maloney's brooding lighting and Michael O'Halloran's direction keeps the despair of these characters at the forefront. They take out their emotions on each other and themselves. The six women in the cast switch ages and even sexes quickly, establishing new scenes, new conflicts and new people expertly with little but Churchill's brief dialogues to work with.

Caryl Churchill wrote biting attacks on the way things were while Mag Thatcher was bringing a kind of Reaganomics to England with scant regard for the poorest of the poor, and those plays stand in sharp contrast to any of the American theatrical output during the same years. Some of the details in "Fen" are too English to be clear to American audiences at the end of the '90s. But in this production, the angry empathy with the poorest of the poor everywhere still packs a universal wallop

Love,
===Anon.


"Fen" (till 2 May)
LE BLACK KAT
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-0320

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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