30 September - 2 October '04
30 sep A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC Lyric Stage of Boston
1 oct BALLAST CentaStage & Wellesley Summer Theatre BCA
2 oct THE BLUE ROOM Blue City Productions ACTORS' WORKSHOP 94
This week was thin, but Glorious! And what I noticed most was the excellent acting and masterful direction obvious in every one of these plays.
Spiro Veloudos and I might both remember his previous run with Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at Ye Publick Theatre --- if his current one didn't knock that completely out of my mind!
Then it was on a relatively more spacious proscenium-stage, with trees and grass and starlight making "A Weekend in The Country" right at home. Now, it's defined by the Lyric's three-quarters-thrust stage, with Cristina Todesco's sets reduced to three full-length upstage screens that whisper on- and off-stage --- in act one covered with warm tan fur, then in act two stripped to trunks and foliage. Beds and bedside tables are whisked in and out by actors and their silent servants, fluidly changing scenes as completely and clearly as film-cuts. The concentration demanded by the space works in its favor, allowing the nineteen-hundreds characters to play out all their sexual permutations in intimate contact with the audience.
What did I notice this time? Well, it seems to me that, though every song is really in waltz-time, Sondheim the composer everywhere emphasized the lyrical rather than the rhythmic effect of that genre --- and the director made a point of making Sondheim's lyrics shine forth, in places making witty speech become song in the hands of singers who can act.
Then there's the chorus. These are five members of Desiree Armfeldt's touring company --- at least, that's how I thought of them when first I saw this show. Here, however, the strolling players often enter the space of the principals, hovering benignly behind their chairs, and singing not only commentary on the action, but occasionally voicing the thoughts that the silent stars keep to themselves.
All aspects of romantic desire --- fulfilled, thwarted, delayed, exhausted, enjoyed, thwarted, and anticipated --- come alive here, in a production studded with real laughs and tears: a production which is a joy to think about!
Nora Hussey came into Boston, bringing along her favorite actress Alicia Kahn, for a full-up BCA production of Kathleen Rogers' new play BALLAST, which was developed by Joe Antoun's CentaStage. Hussey and her cast --- which included Natalie Rose and Derry Woodhouse, playing the Irish-American parents of a thirteen-year-old (Kahn) abducted and starved to death --- got every ounce of emotion and empathy out of what, for me, was an unfinished play. I sent my comments on the play privately to the playwright, but I admit Rogers' clear and always human dialogue, in the mouths of this stunning cast, allowed me to thrill to their work and to think about the script only later.
However, the production allowed me to reflect on Nora Hussey's personal style --- or is it personal habits? --- as a director:
Here, as out at Wellesley where she is building a permanent Wellesley Summer Theatre company, Ken Loewitt (her resident designer) opted for a cleanly uncluttered stage with two platforms at either end making rooms in a house. Whitney L. White's tight areas of light pinned action into place, and absence of sets allowed Hussey a fluidity of blocking --- with an occasional shadow-efect identifying a scene or two. (These shadow-effects are almost a trade-mark on the wide, deep Wellesley stage.)
Another Hussey trade-mark is her habit of "creating" hand-props out of mimed thin-air --- a habit that can morph into a pitfall. In this play, a small box of Irish soil accompanies two lovers to eventual reunion and marriage in America --- and their daughter's discovery of this symbol colors the family's lives. Hussey had her actors' hands "opening" empty air and talking about what they saw. I missed a concrete object every time they "picked it up".
The intimate rapport that the permanent director with a permanent company can achieve was best demonstrated by Alicia Kahn's performance. I have already seen her play so many young girls --- with a jerky awkwardness, explosive shifts in enthusiasm and emotion, and a quick, unashamed honesty of direct response --- that here what registered was the craft of becoming a kid, not really the kid herself. Actress and director relied on the familiar --- and that's a valid choice on a limited Equity rehearsal-schedule --- but forfitted the unique. The relaxing comfort of pulling out of a rep-company techniques that worked before in other plays brings with it a clear danger of more-of-the-same performances.
Nora Hussey is a gifted director whose work always pleases, and only over time would I notice her habits. I do think, though, that every habit ne4eds continual re-examination.
[ Irrelevant Personal Note: When I noticed that turns of phrase, in the dirty-stories I write for fun, were becoming Personal Cliche's, it became impossible for me to finish the story I'd started. I had "picked that tree" and found nothing new in its bared branches... ]
And, as a matter of fact, the work of Director Josiah A. George in the Blue City Productions presentation of David Hare's THE BLUE ROOM --- a re-creation of Schnitzler's LA RONDE for today --- flies in the face of every positive aspect of the Rep-Company experience. He cast two actors he didn't know (De Anne Dubin & Tony Moreira) on the strength of their auditions, worked for a month of intermittent rehearsals, and sent them onstage to play a ten different people seducing one another in a chain of sex-encounters --- and the result was astounding!
The run was all too short at The Actors' Workshop, the "company" came together in a cascade of lucky accidents (Designer Richard Harrison apparently fell out of the trees one day!), credit-cards paid bills, and except for Mr. & Mrs. George "the company" vanished on closing night.
The play, however, was fabulous!
Apparently early on they decided that, rather than nudity and shock, what they'd go for was character and emotion. The pair got to play each character twice, each time with a new partner also played twice. Part of the delight of the play was noticing how differently each character behaved with now one partner, now a new one; and, of course, seeing those same two bodies turn into completely new people after their two scenes was a different delight. Add to it the fact that Hare's play can be scathing in examining insincere sincerity and bubblingly with-it in contemporary speech and situations and you'll see how good a time I had with it.
I wish there Were a permanent Blue City Productions, so that I could look for their next show. As it is, I hope Josiah A. George lets me know where he's working next....
( a k a larry stark )