Translucent beauty: Dissonance’s Witt.
Damian Lanigan, directed by Amanda Charlton
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Mass., through
is that rare bird these days, a comedy with substance and
style. Damian Lanigan combines a talent for writing believable
and sympathetic characters with an ear for crisp dialogue,
a knack for intrigue and a gift for one-liners. And while
he certainly keeps us laughing throughout, it is all in the
service of a play that is about things that matter, like family,
change, communication and the dynamics of relationships that
tend to be defined by roles in work—or whether one plays viola,
cello, first violin or second fiddle.
Heading the Bradley Quartet, who have been playing together
for 10 years, is James Bradley the acid-tongued first violinist
who can spit out sidesplitting invectives as easily as he
can draw his bow across the strings. Daniel Gerroll sounds
all the right notes of James’ bon mots, and rises to the challenge
of delivering the bulk of the laughter while also emerging
as something of a tragic character. It’s a superb performance
about which every detail is correct from the dramatic sweep
to the right of his widow’s peak to the expert timing and
intonation of his frequently outrageous verbal assaults that
observe neither politeness nor political correctness.
Hal, the second violinist, aspires to wrest some control of
the group from James. The challenge of the student to the
master becomes familiar to anyone who has been placed in the
role of child or parent, student or teacher, rebel or traditionalist.
Such universal appeal would amount to little were the characters
unevenly matched, but in Thomas Sadowski’s Hal, Gerroll finds
a worthy, albeit less witty, opponent.
The rift between James and Hal poses a serious threat to the
future of the quartet. Should youth respect experience? Should
age bow to youth? A secondary threat comes from Beth, a young
cellist who undertakes the personal tutelage of a multimillionaire
rock star, Johnny, who wants to know more about classical
music and how the four separate voices of a quartet can play
and sound as one. As Beth bridges the two worlds, James and
Hal react with undignified prejudice and snobbery to the threat
of a musical form that neither understands or acknowledges.
For Hal there is the additional threat of Johnny’s sexual
allure to Beth; with James there is also the sense that, like
Henry Higgins, he doesn’t want to see his Eliza wasted on
the Freddies of the world.
In Alicia Witt’s translucent performance of Beth, the production
finds its most balanced and sympathetic character. Her beauty
alone is motivation enough for three of the four male characters
to have fallen in love with her, but Witt goes well beyond
that, lending a euphonious voice to the squabbling sounds
of James and Hal and observing all around her with a beguiling
alertness and shrewdness. If possible, she becomes increasingly
lovely when she finds herself drawn to Johnny. One can almost
sense her quivering with sensitivity and awe as a new world
opens before her—just as one can feel her sensuousness increase
as she makes Beth more vulnerable.
As Johnny, Patch Darragh is last to arrive and becomes something
of an interloper, both for the quartet and also the audience,
who become protective of the quartet. However, Darragh so
skillfully exploits Johnny’s naiveté and simplicity that he
soon wins us over. Indeed, the various red hues of his environs
are a visual relief from the walls of the rehearsal hall.
That both Darragh and Witt are redheads may be kismet or coincidence,
but it works.
In his depiction of the internal harmonies and dissonances
of a string quartet, Lanigan has astutely created a microcosm
of the family or of any entity made up of individuals who
must orchestrate their differences and similarities in the
pursuit of a common good. Brava to director Amanda Charlton
and her first-rate cast for introducing an original, vital
and much-needed comic voice.
the Whip Comes Down
Leslie Ayvazian, directed by Martha Banta
Adirondack Theatre Festival, through July 7
Mistress Lorraine cracks the whip. Connie cracks the whip.
Eddie cracks the whip. Phil tries to crack the whip. Hank
cracks the clothesline. Sissy wants the whip to be cracked.
Three couples and their relationship to the whip—“all whips
are a symbol of power,” Mistress Lorraine (Joan Rosenfels)
states in her “S&M 101” course—is the theme of Behave
Yourself, another not-ready-for-prime-time premiere at
Adirondack Theatre Festival. As with ATF’s “world premiere”
last season, All Is Not, Behave Yourself shows
that the old-girls network isn’t any more meritorious than
the old-boys network. While ATF has been the Garden of Eden
for many notable plays in years long past, more recently the
“world premiere” plays have been brief, pretentious, tedious
affairs that were even more grating in comparison to ATF’s
earlier, stellar work like Fully Committed, Barbara’s
Blue Kitchen, and It Goes Without Saying.
Yourself features early-middle-age couple Connie (Johanna
Day) and her chiropractor husband Eddie (Bruce Mac Vittie)
trying to liven up their suburban New Jersey wallpaper bedroom
(center stage) with some bondage and discipline play from
“8:25 to quarter till 9” when Eddie has to leave for work.
When a miffed Connie abruptly leaves the house dressed in
her bondage gear to attend Mistress Lorraine’s aforementioned
class on the “Lower East Side, NYC,” Eddie is left handcuffed
to a chair; their discussion of who’s a top and who’s a bottom
is left for the next-door neighbors, Sissy (Brenda Currin)
and Hank (Hal Robinson) to finish. Hank keeps yelling “I’ve
got to whack off these cuffs” when the key can’t be found,
and Sissy swoons at the thought of Connie and Eddie’s bedroom
Hank and Sissy retreat to their Motel 6-esq living room stage
right, while Connie learns the ropes from Mistress Lorraine
downstage left in her “dungeon,” a red brick wall with a cabinet
of whips, ropes, and a teddy bear for practice. Connie learns
the aforementioned symbolic nature of whips, and that B&D
means never having to say your sorry. “The best way to maintain
authority is to enjoy authority,” Mistress Lorraine intones
like a leather-wearing Dick Cheney, and she tells Connie “Never
say you’re sorry” several times. Connie watches as Mistress
Lorraine practices snapping the whip, sometimes successfully,
as Senator Phil (Brian Russell) wears a pink apron and tells
Connie, “You don’t see me and don’t call me senator.”
The mingling of the couples is soon done, and each pair is
left in their own part of the stage to discover that B&D
isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Theater has always had that dance of exhibitionists and voyeurs
going for it, but Behave Yourself’s 70 minutes shows
that adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is true. Behave
Yourself is a long one-act that would titillate those
easily titillated by pleather play; it’s a play that uses
fetish play to ultimately show that Behave Yourself
doesn’t need a safe word.