Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Hopper Collection"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


by Mat Smart
directed by Daniel Aukin

Daniel … Bruce McKenzie
Marjorie … Leslie Lyles
Edward … Brian Leahy
Sarah … Therese Barbato

The late James Barrie would insert into his plays such stage directions as “Watch that screen. It is bound to be used later on.” Mat Smart’s THE HOPPER COLLECTION at the Huntington Theatre plants similar seeds, throughout, concluding with everything suddenly, swiftly, coming to fruition --- the problem is, THE HOPPER COLLECTION is not a suspenseful thriller but a quirky, stop-start comedy with the audience dropped smack dab in the middle of things. The setting is a handsome beach house where Daniel and Marjorie, wealthy husband and eccentric wife, live in separate wings with the living room as a common battle ground. Daniel wants to celebrate their wedding anniversary by making love to his wife, using his boxing skills as a turn-on; Marjorie, in turn, gleefully torments him and tries to poison him with cyanide. A younger couple, Edward and Sarah, arrive to admire an Edward Hopper painting (facing upstage) though it is not the only Hopper in the house (thus, the play’s title). Like Mr. Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Daniel and Marjorie’s marriage revolves around an illusion that needs to be smashed; like Wendy McLeod’s THE HOUSE OF YES, Marjorie is into re-enacting the past as a prelude to sex; like anything of Mr. Pinter’s, the dialogue is closed and elliptical (if Mr. Smart has equated audience involvement with deliberately keeping them in the dark, he couldn’t be farther from the playwriting truth). For me to say more would, no doubt, provide enlightenment to (and gratitude from) succeeding audiences but would also spoil those final moments so I will simply scribble that a man will do just about anything for the woman he loves and that you must remember that bathing suit, those lights being switched on and off and, especially, that handshake --- they will play important roles, later on. (You may even want to study Mr. Hopper’s “Summer Evening”, beforehand, for two of the costumes.)

The production has two things going for it: its leading lady and its visuals. Leslie Lyles makes a comical, lethal Marjorie, playing her role moment-by-moment as any unbalanced soul would do yet keeping it firmly in shape, and Adam Stockhausen has boxed her tour-de-force inside a striking, spare interior of wood paneling and slate. It’s the little touches that can bring a set to life: here, it’s the faint breeze rustling the bushes glimpsed through the sliding glass doors; when the doors are slid open, the faint sounds of the surf are heard --- a nice anchor of realism. Matt Frey’s sunset, dusk and evening tones are rich in color saturation (Hopper-esque, you might say).

"The Hopper Collection" (3 March - 2 April)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide