A retreat into a mountain cabin might be just the spot for any couple having a bump in their relationship to spend a couple days and work things out. The sound of birds in the surrounding woods; a hike for a fifty-mile, top-of-peak view of the world; a stack of wood for romantic fires at night — how can that all not be perfect? And while all those elements are present in Brad Biroh’s Black Mountain, the initial flash of light like lightening striking the small, dark, in-the-round arena alerts us that something more may be going. Clues continue to mount as does the suspense that draws each of us a little closer to our seat’s edge: More lights go on and off in odd intervals; an axe is missing from the tool shed; a dead bird shows up in the living room, mangled and bloody. And someone else seems always to be watching what is going on in their cabin. Mystery is in the air. Revenge or resolution for a past betrayal: Which is it to be?
James Grieve directs rapidly shifting scenes to produce an ever-increasing atmosphere of surprise and tension where the air is virtually crackling electric in anticipation that something bad is about to happen any minute. The lighting of Peter Small and the sound effects of Dominic Kennedy play starring roles as scenes shift that sometimes vividly imply the beauty and peace of the surrounding woods and other times, portend of worse things to come.
A cast of three (yes, there is someone else lurking in the background … but why?) appears before us in various combinations, with the focus increasingly on some past sin of Paul that has hurt Rebecca to the core. Each actor (Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham, Hason Dixon) is superb in adding further tension and mystery with spoken phrases that come often in only a few words at a time; with smiles that seem incoherent to what is being said; and with eyes that seem to know there is more going on than the rest of us cannot see. Questions are asked; answers are few. Who knows what? Who knows whom? Something is afoul, but what is it exactly?
There are surprises until the end. There is a resolution. In the case of this script, the final outcome is more B-movie that first-rate theatre; but the journey to get there is impeccably acted and produced by all involved.
From beginning to end, there are things about Charles Gershman’s new play, The Waiting Game as directed by Nathan Wrightthat are highly imaginative and intriguing but are at the same time, contrived to the point of confusing. Blue tape is laid out on a bare, floor-level stage by four, bare-footed men (all singularly striking in physique), followed by their meticulously placing scene properties in neat line-ups around the blue edge. Four, blue foot-stools become the blue rectangle’s interior while a screen looms behind that will project mingled words of the script during the brief intervals of the many short scenes. Actors not within the tape’s boundaries for any one scene remain in sight of the small audience of the compact arena, with one who will never speak and will only change from time to time his taut form of arms outstretched and/or folded in some odd manner. He is Sam, we will learn, a published poet who has OD’d on drugs and is now on life-support, brain-dead.
Sam (Ibsen Santos) is part of a love triangle of his own making. Sam brought Geoff into the home he shares with his partner of ten years, Paulo (and subject of several of his love poems); and Paulo catches them making love. That was a year ago, long before the over-dose. Now Geoff (Joshua Bouchard) wants Paulo (Marc Sinoway) to give him conservatorship over Sam so that he can carry out what he believes are Sam’s wishes to die rather than to live as a vegetable. But Paulo is in contact with hospitalized Sam on text (or is he?); and he is torn what to do. Now add a current boyfriend for Paulo (Tyler played by Kellan Peavy) in a relationship on the sudden skids but still a boyfriend who seems very determined in his own opinion what Paulo should do in terms of Geoff’s request. Something is going on, but what? Emotions are real, or are they? This is after all life and death, or is it?
Kudos go to each of the three, speaking actors. All provide stellar performances that never go too far over the edge as they enact grief, anger, fear, suspicion, and lust within just a few feet, sometimes inches of the enthralled audience members. Their superb portrayals of emotions genuine and visceral still keep their individual motives and true intentions often a mystery, adding to the mounting tension as we all wait to see what is really going on, what will finally be resolved for Sam.
But where this overall excellent show that has many curious contrivances falls apart is in its final seconds and the last of its many scenes. The audience is left with a surprise that cannot help but leave everyone shaking his/her head upon leaving and asking, “Now what does that mean?” While ambiguous endings are fairly common in live theatre, in this case we may all be waiting a very long time to have a clue as to what the playwright was thinking in ending the play as he does.
Lord Dismiss Us
Adapted by Glenn Chandler, Based on Novel by Michael Campbell
In 1967, the British Parliament (and much of Britain) was entangled in a divisive debate concerning proposed legislation to decriminalize homosexuality. In the midst of the heated proceedings, Michael Campbell published a book about a beautiful, sweet, but totally illicit first-love relationship between two boys in a all-male preparatory school. Fifty years later with such relationships now often culminating in legal marriages, Glenn Chandler adapts the seminal novel into a powerful play of the same title, Lord Dismiss Us. Boys of Empire Productions bring the play to the 2017 Fringe Festival for what may be one of the best, most important, most impacting theatrical events of this year’s many rich Festival offerings.
The Weatherhill School for Boys opens its academic year in 1967 with a new schoolmaster, Phillip Crabtree, and his wife, Cecilia, both bound and determined to raise the so-so academic results, to increase the number of trophies in the sports display, and definitely to eliminate the rumors of disgusting, sexual trysts among some of the boys (and maybe even some of the faculty). Also arriving is Nicolas Allen, fresh from an Etan expulsion for being caught in the arms of another boy — a boy who immediately is attracted to and attracted by Terry Carleton, two years his senior and in his last year before heading to Cambridge. But these two are not the only ones at Weatherhill who are experimenting with the boundaries of their sexual selves or who (as now adults) have in fact already lived decades having crossed that forbidden boundary into the life of the closet long ago.
As the school year progresses with the normal things occurring that happen among any group of boys walled up together twenty-four hours a day (alliances, rivals, teasing, ratting on, much laughter, some tears), the push for reform and even expulsion increases as the secret love of Allen and Carleton (all boys called by last names at dear, ol’ Weatherhill) intensifies in passed notes, short sharings of forbidden fags (cigarettes), or just occasional but prolonged glances across the room. Joe Bence and Joshua Oakes-Rogers are both outstanding in the respective roles of Allen and Carleton, each proving in their performance the normality of the love they feel and exhibit as teens — natural performances that in themselves mock and demean the societal and school norms around them that declare what they are doing is hellaciously wrong.
Equally wonderful and authentic portrayals are given by their chums (and sometimes adversaries), Jonathan Braydon as Peter Naylor and Matthew McCallion as John Steele. Tom Lloyd is new himself to the school as an English and drama teacher, Eric Ashley, whose entire demeanor proudly and defiantly screams his own membership on that team of men and boys whose identity cannot be spoken but can be righteously condemned.
But Mr. Ashley is not the only faculty member who may have some secrets behind his closed doors, although the classic, art reproductions in his apartment of naked boys cavorting around should be enough to raise anyone’s eyebrows about the Reverend Cyril Starr (David Mullen), even if the clues of his constant use of folding fan or of swishing out a hankie from under his sleeve are missed. Mr. Mullen brilliantly also plays his chief adversary, the Headmaster himself; and the contrast of his two roles highlights the huge chasm between the two sides of the debate in 1967.
Capping off this stellar cast is the one who comes close to stealing the entire show, Felicity Duncan as Cecelia Crabtree. Her sanctimonious stuffiness, her busy-body nosiness into each dark corner of the school, and her evangelical determination to root out all evil-doers — boys and faculty — and expel their very presence are all deliciously portrayed by Ms. Duncan in a performance you hate to love but cannot help in doing so.
The period costumes (and the ones created for a school play reminiscent of those many of us were once in except that in this one, boys kiss boys) by David Shields, the lighting by Chris Withers, and the simple but effective set by Xavier Hollander-Strong along with this first-rate cast hand to director Glenn Chandler all he needs to produce this new play that reminds us from whence we so recently came in dominant societal attitudes about same-sex love. And with blaring headlines as recent as this week about hateful epitaphs about ‘fags’ being shouted in Charlottesville as bodies flew through the air in a terrorist attack, we realize that Lord Dismiss Us is still all too current in its message that same-sex love is as innocent and normal as any feelings first generated by a boy for a girl in their teen years at school.
The internationally acclaimed queen of cabaret, Meow Meow, blasts onto the stage of the Edinburgh International Festival in her own take of the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Little Mermaid. Fabulously audacious, totally raucous, slightly raunchy, and marvelously performed in every respect, Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid is a tour-de-force from beginning to end. Whether she is prancing awkwardly about in swimmers fins, attempting to don her mermaid tail (which somehow first landed on her upper half), or swimming high suspended and flapping her legs and arms high above the stage, Meow Meow is always in full control and ready any moment to open up into a gloriously full set of sung vocals that rival the delivery of any diva on any stage.
Always outrageous and unpredictable as to her next move, Meow Meow is also genuinely human and able to touch the hearts and win instant fans of any and all audience members, no matter the age or background. Her story on this evening is her pursuit of a true love, one that will last forever and not just be retained in discarded bits and pieces as have been the past loves of her past — all of which she recalls for us in song and remembered, favorite body parts. Along the way, she dances with a sea rock, quizzes some audience gents about the potential to be her one true love (and employs them as mer-men as her back-ups for a song), and even begins to pursue a union guy who suddenly shows up to repair a broken special effect apparatus (bubbles, anyone?). And all along the way in moments least expected, from that body of black-mopped hair, glittered-encased eyes, and humongous breasts about to pop into the audience’s first row from her too-tight top comes a song so amazingly beautiful, powerful, and moving that jaws drop and audience members move just a little closer to their own loves sitting next to them.
Rating: 4 E
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Theatre Critic for the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, writing 150+ reviews annually for Theatre Eddys and Talkin' Broadway (San Jose/Silicon Valley). Read More