Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Haymarket"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


by Zayd Dohrn
directed by Adam Zahler

Sgt. Spierling / Daniel Hoan … Barlow Adamson
Mayor Harrison / William Black … Ken Baltin
John Bonfield / Judge Gary … Peter Edmund Haydu
Mary Catherine / Jenny Hoan … Birgit Huppuch
Lucy Parsons … Jacqui Parker
Albert Parsons … Wesley Savick

Less than a month after the closing of A GIRL’S WAR, a new work by a local playwright and done up proud by local artists, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre has proved that lightning can strike twice with B. U. graduate Zayd Dohrn’s HAYMARKET. Mr. Dohrn takes us back to the Chicago of 1886 --- the city is reeling from the Haymarket Riots where striking workers clashed with the police, resulting in a bomb being exploded and the police openly firing upon the crowd. A number of Anarchists are rounded up, tried and hanged, including Albert Parsons, mild-mannered editor of “The Alarm”. By balancing the realistic and the presentational, the victims and the accused victimizers, by downplaying the sensational and concentrating on the individual, Mr. Dohrn gives a history lesson that is juicy and most theatrical, though his balancing might be viewed by some as whitewashing: Albert Parsons defends himself on the grounds of free speech; Lucy, his dark-skinned wife, is less a radical than a pillar of great dignity. Still, HAYMARKET could find a future with schools and universities as well as the general public --- provided, of course, they take this beautiful, troubling and very American play to their hearts.

Adam Zahler has directed a satisfying, red-blooded production --- it looks and feels American Victorian in its passion, rowdiness and sorrow --- and his sublime ensemble is proof to the growing excellence of Boston-based theatre (did you hear that, New York?). Years ago, when one of my own plays was done in college, a faculty member loftily pronounced, “I can’t tell if [the leading man] was good because of you, or if you were good because of him.” (What a thing to tell a young playwright!) For the record, HAYMARKET is an actor’s play and Mr. Zahler’s cast --- a near-Who’s Who of Boston Theatre --- have eagerly dug in and struck gold: four members I have encountered before and three of the four do some of their best work here: Ken Baltin, fast becoming a personal favorite among character actors, is positively Dickensian in detail as politician and lawyer; and Barlow Adamson and Birgit Huppuch are gravely touching as a deafened mug of a policeman and an Irish nurse mourning over her brother, killed in the riot --- their brief scenes together are a love story nipped before it can bud. Jacqui Parker (Lucy Parsons) should thank her lucky stars for blessing her with a radiant stage presence for another actress would have gotten “she’s sleepwalking, again” out of me --- though Ms. Parker suddenly, swiftly makes with a bone-chilling yelp when about to be strip-searched; the effect is that of a brick crashing through a shrine’s window. Peter Edmund Haydu’s police inspector has stepped from a Matthew Brady daguerreotype and is one convincing son-of-a-bitch though his rich, silken voice is at odds with the character’s working-class personality (it’s more appropriate for his bigoted judge) --- that silkiness, however, lends an erotic shiver to his inspector murmuring threats into Ms. Parker’s ear.

Wesley Savick, director, professor and recently-named Artistic Director for the Coyote Theatre, makes an actor’s comeback as Albert Parsons. Mr. Savick, as lean and rumpled as a bloodhound, is a veritable lecture on emoting: his eyebrows shoot up and collapse, causing his eyes to flash. His mouth twitches as if silently mouthing “mum-mum-mum-mum-mum” without opening his lips. When he walks, he is led forward at an angle by his own nose; when he sits, hunched, his head seems to lose its neck. It is to Mr. Savick’s credit that these signs and signals add up to more than a collection of mannerisms and make his Parsons a human, vulnerable fellow (Mr. Savick throws an impressive speaking voice in for good measure). In the show’s most haunting moment, Mr. Savick’s Parsons suffers a powerful crying jag: its power lies not in outright blubbering but, rather, in Parsons trying to hold it in for as long as he can, causing his surface to crack and shatter from the strain. It’s a tearjerker, all right --- on both sides of the footlights.

Richard Chambers has designed a somber collection of planks, beams, bricks and shutters that come to rest against the audiences’ toes; rather than being claustrophobic, its closeness to the audience draws them in (ah, the seductions of chamber theatre!) --- and Haddon Kime has set all of the above to an equally somber score that rests against the drama like a second skin.

BPT’s small house was half-full on the night I attended; I hope HAYMARKET will not prove to be this year’s BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE --- there are times when to soothe the Tired Businessman and times when to shake him awake. HAYMARKET is one for the wide-awake.

"Haymarket" (30 October-16 November)
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 358-7529

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide