Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, Directed
by Laura Margolis
through Oct. 17
Imagine a Monty Python sketch about Martha Stewart dropping
acid at an elegant soiree on the rim of Hell, where the guests
include Robert Ludlum, Gloria Steinem, Tony Blair, Captain
America, Oprah Winfrey, and Osama bin Laden. Or picture acclaimed
and eclectic director Julie Taymor staging an Al Franken adaptation
of the smarmy The Five People You Meet in Heaven starring
If you can do either of those, you can begin to appreciate
the excellence of StageWorks/Hudson’s current production of
the wildly inventive, funny, and cutting Omnium Gatherum.
A worthy successor to the bold excellence of previous StageWorks
hits such as Wit, Brutal Imagination and The
Laramie Project, Omnium Gatherum is what critics
pray for when they enter a theater: a production of a play
that makes you laugh, lets you think, challenges conventions,
and leaves you room to question, remember and smile. StageWorks/Hudson’s
Omnium Gatherum is theater at its very best.
However, Omnium Gatherum isn’t for those who fear thinking,
i.e., fundamentalists of any affiliation (though they would
benefit most from the play’s theme) or those who like their
theater to be flaccid and familiar. I watched the quintessential
L.L. Bean couple walk out five minutes into the play when
Kahlid (an impressive and intelligent Tony Markham) explained
“why they hate us.” If the couple had stayed, they would have
learned not only that, but also why “they” like us, why we
like us, why we hate us—and they would have laughed the stripes
off their matching flannel shirts. That kind of humor is a
rare theatrical achievement for a 100-minute intermissionless
play. Omnium Gatherum—“a miscellaneous collection of
things or persons; a confused mixture; a medley”—makes the
strange familiar, the familiar fantastic, and the flaccid
and facile Viagra-hard. If Jean-Paul Sartre had collaborated
with George S. Kaufman and Charlie Chaplin had directed, Omnium
Gatherum might have been the result.
The play is set in scenic designer Elisa Viola’s excellent
luxury Manhattan apartment, complete with a literal stairway
to Hell downstage center that glows red and spews smoke whenever
any actor reluctantly exits down into the bowels. It features
a wild mix of dinner-party repartee, bon mots, fisticuffs,
existentialist angst, philosophical meanderings, palate-pandering
descriptions of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and politically
incorrect and snicker-inducing one-liners.
The cast of this “perfect” dinner party—a mix of six famous
New Yorkers (including one fireman) hosted by an equally famous
blonde domestic diva (an excellent Susan Greenhill)—handles
the mix of political, religious, social and anthropological
chat and point/counterpoint dialogue set in a post-9/11 Manhattan
high-rise. This plotless and surreal but highly symbolic journey
could have been a tedious, didactic bore, but director Laura
Margolis and her ensemble cast of eight (in addition to Markham
and Greenhill, Kevin McClarnon, the always believable Robin
Leslie Brown, Shona Tucker, Andy Prosky, Paul Carter, and
W. Mark Young) keep the characters human. These eight actors
create individuals, not ciphers; people, not personifications
of ideas. The result is a rare mix of laughter, provocations,
ideas, and images that make StageWorks/Hudson’s Omnium
Gatherum a hit not to be missed.
Arthur Miller, directed by Eric Peterson
Theatre Company, Bennington, Vt., through Oct. 17
For a year of increased political awareness, the region’s
theater season offered few productions that dealt significantly
with current sociopolitical concerns. The Berkshire Theatre
Festival’s Heartbreak House and the Williamstown Theatre
Festival’s Design for Living were notable exceptions
of plays that resonated powerfully with issues of the day.
With its season-closer, All My Sons, Oldcastle makes
a distinguished entry into this realm of conscience-driven
Set just after the end of World War II, Arthur Miller’s potent
classic about war-profiteering greed and its terrible aftermath
remains eerily timely. Joe Keller is an industrialist whose
factory manufactured faulty engine blocks that were used in
aircraft that claimed the lives of American airmen fighting
the war. Exonerated from charges, Joe has returned to his
home where he lives in relative peace and freedom from guilt.
The wrongdoing was attributed to his partner, who has been
imprisoned and has earned the disgust of his grown children,
Anne and George.
Keller’s precarious peace is interrupted one fateful day when
his son, Chris, announces plans to marry Anne, who was previously
engaged to Chris’ brother, Larry, a WWII pilot who is presumed
dead by all but his mother, Kate. Anne’s arrival at the Keller
homestead sets in motion the gears of an absorbing drama that
marks Miller’s first foray into modern tragedy.
While Oldcastle does well enough with the drama, it doesn’t
do much more than flirt with the tragic elements.
Lacking sufficient weight to capture the darker side of Joe
Keller, Phillip Lance does play the role with conviction and
draws an earnest portrait of an ordinary man who is content
to be master of his well-groomed backyard. When forced to
grapple with larger issues, Lance’s Joe suffers believably,
but not cathartically. He seems more like a hapless Chekhovian
aristocrat than a struggling Sophoclean king.
In this production, more emphasis seems to be given the Kate
of Wendy Barrie-Wilson, an actress who tends to dominate the
stage but who doesn’t have enough nuance to illuminate it.
She offers a passionate portrayal, however it is sometimes
marred by indicating emotions more than living them. Where
she should hide information, she makes a show of the concealment.
Although he may ultimately be too light for the role’s darkening
aspects, more persuasive work is contributed by the Chris
of Shawn Davis, even if his muscularity and shoulder tattoo
are out of keeping with the time period. Lovely and fragile
as a peach blossom, Jennifer Kaeppel looks as if she could
have been plucked from the ’40s. The doe-eyed Kaeppel is a
striking Anne, and, like Davis, she is an eminently likeable
performer. Both, however, need to go a little further in rending
and rendering the play’s pith.
The most intense and sustained work is delivered by Kent Burnham
as George; it’s just a pity that costume designer Patti Brundige
did not tailor his jacket to more effectively hide the distracting
bulge of his “missing” arm.
Contributing much to the play’s initial atmosphere of innocence
are Doug Ryan and Sophia Garder, whose spontaneity again refreshes.
Also compelling is Richard Howe’s set, one of the best ever
at OTC. Howe has boldly designed a bucolic backyard with hints
of unrest and danger. An angled bench on a hexagonal dais
cleverly suggests a throne that is entirely appropriate to
our first visions of Joe as the benevolent ruler of his piece
of the land.
It is impossible to regard any version of this play after
the magnificent one directed by Barry Edelstein on the WTF’s
Nikos Stage. While that production released the full force
of tragedy that underlies Miller’s work, Peterson’s production
comes across more as a serious melodrama that is fairly engrossing
but not quite staggering and cataclysmic. Such productions
are rare, however, and Peterson’s will suffice as a distinct
step in the right direction for his theater company that has
been too long in left field.