note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Kim H. Carrell
A familiar subject was recently ressurected on this website - the subject of the "big" theaters in Boston casting so many New York actors and bypassing the Boston talent pool. If you are bothered by that subject as I am, I suggest you get yourself to Boston Playwrights' Theatre to see HAYMARKET. Not only is it a compelling show - it is a veritable feast of Boston talent.
Dohrn's play deals with anarchist/labor activist Albert Parsons and his involvement in the Haymarket labor protest in 1886 Chicago. Dohrn wisely does not inundate his audience with tons of facts and data about the Haymarket bombing; rather, he gives us snippets of information filtered through the viewpoint of the mayor, police officers, a nurse, and Parsons and his wife. This gives a strong sense of the fear, confusion and unease that permeated Chicago at the time. We see the reaction to the bombing through several sets of eyes - including Parsons' own horror at the loss of life, and the police inspector's determination to make an example of the anarchists. As Parsons first escapes Chicago for his own safety, then returns at his wife's urging to stand trial, Dohrn steadily builds tension through each scene and within each scene that is kept unresolved - until we reach the inevitable, forced resolution of the gallows.
The performances in HAYMARKET could hardly be better. Wes Savick as Parsons shows us not a wild-eyed fanatic, but an all too human man with passionate beliefs. His sorrow over the turn of events shows in his every move, and we feel his reliance on his wife Lucy's strength. But soon after we see Parsons at his lowest - falling apart in his jail cell - Savick seems to grow an additional foot in stature in the courtroom when he chooses to stuff his written apology in his pocket and again become the fiery voice of anarchy.
As Lucy Parsons, Jaqui Parker is every bit the well of strength that Parsons says. But we also see in no uncertain terms what that strength costs her. It is almost unbearable to watch her fight to maintain that strong exterior as she pleads to see her husband hours before his execution.
The rest of the company - Barlow Adamson, Ken Baltin, Peter Haydu, and Birgit Huppuch - each play more than one role in the show and do so in ! tremendous fashion. While they each do marvelously in their roles and are captivating in telling their parts of the story, I must single out Haydu as the police inspector and the judge. His transformation into each character is so complete that I have to add him to my list of those I consider to be an "actor's actor".
Adam Zahler's direction makes ideal use of the many assets at his disposal - not just a wonderful cast, but an elegantly simple set by Richard Chambers that easily evokes all of the play's locations; haunting lighting by Franklin Meissner Jr.; and a sound design and score by Haddon S. Kime that is as effective in its use of dissonance as the unresolved tensions in the script itself.
Every once in a while, I get to see a piece of theater that I don't just "enjoy" - it commands my attention, it makes my heart pound, it makes me cry. But most of all it reminds me why I made theater my life's work in the first place. HAYMARKET is in that category. Go see it - and while you experience an excellent play, you can also celebrate the kind of magic produced by the Boston theatre community.
Kim H. Carrell
New England Shakespeare Festival