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by Anthony Chase
The Careful Glover
Of all this year’s Curtain Up! offerings, I think the one that may have gotten short-shrift is Jim Baines’ play, The Careful Glover, directed by Neal Radice at Alleyway Theatre. It is a delightful script, performed by a superb cast, beautifully produced at Alleyway Theatre.
In The Careful Glover we meet an aged and ailing William Shakespeare, retired to Stratford with a family he has neglected for a London career. He is living out the final days of his life, working to finish one last play and to work out unfinished business and ideas when a visit from his friend and rival, Ben Jonson, forces issues to a climax.
The acting is without a weak link, in a company headed by Saul Elkin as Shakespeare and Pamela Rose Mangus as the long-suffering wife with a penchant for scolding. Shakespeare’s daughters are played by Joyce Stilson and Katie White, the former a woman who takes after her conventional mother, while the latter clearly resembles her dad—a source of closeness as well as friction.
While everyone in this company is strong, Katie White is certainly one of those actresses whose every stage appearance reminds one anew of just how splendidly good she is. With each stage performance, she ignites an element of the heroic, and while she is known for fluctuating between tomboy androgyny and drop-dead sexy, here she manages both simultaneously.
Richard Lambert is marvelously mischievous and appealing as Jonson, in a performance which at first renders him unrecognizable under Jacobean facial hair.
In addition to fine acting, the pacing is tight and moves the play briskly, the heightened language of the script is intelligent and full of fun. The Careful Glover continues through Saturday. (Call 852-2600 for tickets.)
Freud and the Sandman
As E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, “The Sandman,” involves a mechanical doll, the tale certainly invites a retelling with puppets. The story, which follows a young man named Nathanial, who believes the automaton Olympia to be a real girl and falls in love with her, has provided source material for numerous variations, including the comic ballet Coppelia (which incorporates another Hoffman story), Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, and a retelling and explication by Sigmund Freud.
As the title suggests, it is this latter version that inspired Bob Waterhouse to bring Dr. Coppelius back to the stage for another outing.
Using truly stunning puppets created by Buffalo’s goddess of puppetry, Michele Costa, Waterhouse weaves a retelling of the story with Freud’s analysis of the tale. Christian Brandjes plays Freud.
As briefly as possible: The narrative follows Nathaniel, who is warned as a child that a boogieman figure called “the sandman” will steal the eyes of naughty children. When a creepy man named Coppelius visits the house to conduct experiments with Nathaniel’s father, the boy associates him with the sandman. This connection is reinforced when Coppelius threatens to burn the boy’s eyes out after catching him spying. Nathaniel’s father intervenes, but when Dad is killed by an explosion during one of Coppelius’s visits, the association is cemented.
The Olympia episode follows, and Nathaniel’s consequent disillusion is compounded when he is later ascending a tower with his fiancé and spies the inventor of Olympia from above. He first tries to kill his fiancé, but finally throws himself to his death.
Needless to say, Freud loved this story!
The New Phoenix has given the play a meticulous rendering which, in addition to Costa’s exquisite puppets, features an impressive original score by Paul Kozlowski which lends a striking formal quality to the production, and enables Waterhouse, through use of dance and formalized movement, to keep the action propelling forward through its extreme plot twists.
There are elements of the production that effectively highlight Freud’s discussion of the story. In particular, the use of Costa’s grotesquely expressionistic puppets underscores Freud’s insistence that it is difficult to determine which aspects of the story are real and which are an extension of the protagonist’s delusions. A puppet, of course, is a hybrid—an inanimate object animated by a human being. (Interestingly, the automaton Olympia is not played by a puppet at all, but by an empty garment on a mannequin.) I found certain comic pot-shots, facilitated by demeaning oversimplifications of Freud’s text, to be annoying or gratuitously apologetic, especially when such narrative, analytic, and visual abundance otherwise imbues the evening. In the main, the script is direct, and provides playful insight and entertainment.
In addition to Brandjes, who gives a wonderfully engaging and light-hearted performance as Freud, the production features Laura Bevilacqua, David Butterfield, Patrick Cain, and Martha Rothkopf. Freud and the Sandman continues through Saturday at New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, 95 Johnson Park (853-1334). (There is a performance with a special price for actors on Saturday, October 3 at 1pm.)
Continuing from Freud and the Sandman with the theme of the mysterious and the strange, the popularity of Willy Russell’s musical, Blood Brothers, certainly does not derive from its sophisticated source material or musical complexity. This is a good old-fashioned low-brow melodrama, a late-night British television tale of the supernatural set to music. Here, a working class mother whose husband has just run out on her finds herself pregnant yet again—this time with twins. The wealthy woman whose house she cleans is unable to get pregnant, but as luck would have it, her husband will be abroad for exactly the requisite nine months. A switch is made and the repercussions are positively Greek!
The Irish Classical Theatre Company rarely does musicals, but they’ve latched on to this entertaining ride under the pretense of their devotion to playwright Willy Russell, having scored great successes with his plays Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.
Fortunato Pezzimenti has directed an enormously pleasing production that is buoyed aloft by the uniform excellence of its cast. David Autovino is especially strong as the twin who stays with the working class mum. He navigates the character’s rise from childhood bravado, to brash adolescent awkwardness, to the angst of young manhood with compelling ease and surprising believability. The deftness of the performance keeps the melodrama of the climax from evoking chuckles (my original reaction in London). In fact, we are easily lured in to the pretenses of the production. Loraine O’Donnell and Jenn Stafford play the opposing and opposite moms with skill, drawing us, willingly, into the unlikely web of the story.
Blood Brothers continues through October 11 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. (853-ICTC).
It is always a gamble when a theater returns to a script that enjoyed a beloved production in a previous incarnation. A decade ago, BUA visited Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, the story of two gay working class English boys who discover love while living next door to each other. It was a smash.
Ten years inevitably come with a shift in the zeitgeist and changed perspectives on a story that has not changed. Just ten years ago, the notion that there could be such a thing as a wholesome gay love story about teenagers was relatively new. In 2009, this element of the story is a given, and now, rather than the breathless anticipation I remember ten years ago, the audience looks on with knowing complicity. The beauty of the story is sustained, of course, and where there was once the thrill of the new is now the comfort of nostalgia and a sweet love story.
Another major shift in the Beautiful Thing experience involves the character of the neighbor girl, Leah, who has dropped out of high school and dreams of living the life of American singer Cass Elliott. Last time this was certainly an appealing character, but a decidedly secondary one. In 2009, Leah pops to the forefront.
Amy Jakiel gives a winning performance as Leah. The character feels excluded from anything good that might happen in her impoverished neighborhood, and responds with a mixture of jealousy and protectiveness when she realizes that the boys next door are in love. The reaction of the audience to this character was palpable.
Adam Rath and Gordon Tashjian are as adorable as can be, and give the story all the beauty it requires. Lisa Ludwig scores a bull’s eye with the irresistible role of Sandra. Darryl Hart is also strong as Sandra’s eager boyfriend. Those who loved the story before are likely to love it again. Those new to Beautiful Thing will forge their own personal memory.
Beautiful Thing continues through October 17 at BUA Theater, 119 Chippewa St. (886-9239).
View full theater listings in this week's On The Boards.
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