Posts Tagged ‘Almeida theatre’

Mini-review – King Charles – Almeida Theater

May 23, 2014

The Almeida Theater’s debut production of Mike Bartlett’s King Charles closes soon, but, as an example of the golden age of theater writing in London, I simply must review it despite missing the best window for doing so.

Taking a philosophical question and putting it in as the core element of a work of fiction is a fantastic way of approaching “what ifs.” In some ways, it’s the motivation behind the writing of Animal Farm and of Fahrenheit 451 … for others, it’s the essence of a dry bit of writing like The Communist Manifesto or God knows how many dreary PhD publications. Forget essays, let’s look at changes to the underpinnings of concepts of personhood and politics through the eyes of theater!

This seems to be the driving force behind Mike Bartlett’s new play, King Charles. The idea is that the new king (former prince), Charles, has decided to change the balance of powers between the executive and the legislative branch; rather than rubberstamping every bill that comes his way, he’s going to use … the veto! Now, as an expert on American constitutional government, I didn’t find this shocking at all; but apparently saying no hasn’t been on the agenda for all of Elizabeth’s long reign. The so-called executive is supposed to smile and nod and say yes to anything that comes out of parliament; a situation that rather effectively destroys any sense of “balance” between these two bodies.

My mind raced madly at the ideas this raised (and Charles’ mini-furore over likening Putin to Hitler – a similarity I certainly noticed, what with the takeover of a free nation’s territory – showed that the expectation is that royalty are truly only expected to be FIGURE heads of state). What are the traditional rights of the executive role? Is this country wrongly goverened because there is no effective balance to the legistlature? What’s the point of a prime minister, anyway?

I had feared that this play would be some kind of celebrity, jokey-jokey “oh look it’s Camilla oh look it’s, um, whatever his name is, the younger brother” but instead Bartlett took the opportunity to create beautiful language (it sounded very iambic, someone send me a script!) and to flesh out gorgeous, rich characters very much “inspired by” a la Shakespeare. (I’m pretty sure no Scottish lord of any sort has ever referred to his family as “all my pretty chickens,” but it still makes for better listening.) And all of this was underpinned by Bartlett’s wonderful understanding of human motivations … especially the selfish ones.

Backed by the beautiful uncertaining of our soon to be glorious future, this play had a brilliant edge to it, like a knife sitting in silk, ready to tear. I was eager to rush back in after the intermission and see how it had all turned out. Oh brave Almeida, that has such fine plays in ‘t!

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 9th, 2014. It ends May 31st.)

Review – Ghosts – Almeida Theater

October 10, 2013

I have to say, I wasn’t planning on going to see the Almeida’s production of Ghosts. I’m an Ibsen completist, but after seeing the Arcola’s 2009 production, I figured this was one I could skip seeing again. But, well, I got an offer to come to a bloggers’ review night, and I thought, why not?

As it turns out, with a different translation, the removal of the interval, and a more committed cast, this was not just a snappy play, but a performance that gave me new insights into the text. This show is known as the “syphilis” play, but it’s about much more than that: about morality, personal evolution, family ties, the impact of lies, and assisted suicide. Over all of this hovers the “ghosts” of the title, the past which Helen Alving (the stellar Lesley Manville) can’t escape … embodied pretty directly as her dead husband and the legacy of his life. She’s got a good position in society, but only as long as she keeps up the pretense of her husband’s reform after years of philandering and debauchery – a pretense which requires her to deny her own skill as a businesswoman. In the end, everything Mr Alving left behind is in ruins, including his son (Oswald, Jack Lowden) and the remainders of his money (to be turned into the funds for what looks to be a house of ill repute).

I found some of this play hard to swallow, still. Pastor Manders (Will keen) is both narrowminded and judgmental, but is both willing to be fooled by Jacob Engstrand (Brian McCardie) and then to quickly give up his pursuit of truth if it means he is to be stained by opprobrium. His gullibility and easy acceptance of false witness if it were to his benefit didn’t seem in keeping with his character. Meanwhile, Helene, while a believable loving mother and progressive thinker, completely falls apart at the end of the play, when her son starts piling on the bad news. This is a woman who made it through at least a decade (maybe more) of a terrible marriage that required her to deal with humiliation on a daily basis … where was her backbone when her son needed it? Manville had her sobbing and hysterical, but I think she probably would have pulled into herself, looked at the facts, and found strength and clearsightedness.

But, you know, it’s hard to blame actors for a playwright’s decision: I’m sure, like Jessica Rabbit, Manders and Helene were “just written that way.” And although I found moments which I think didn’t make sense, as a drama it all rolled on quite quickly to a blazing conclusion, with Oswald staring into the distance, asking for the sun, his mother standing beside him as the light of dawn peeps through the windows. Ooh such symbolism! And the whole thing took little more than ninety minutes. I was overwhelmed enough that I needed to get an ice cream afterwards to fortify myself – a big difference from how I felt walking out of the Arcola many years ago. This play was vibrant and relevant; I’m so glad I went!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 6th, 2013. It continues through November 23rd.)

Review – Chimerica – Almeida Theater (transferring to Harold Pinter Theater)

May 31, 2013

It was a bit intimidating to walk into the Almeida Theater’s blogger’s evening for Chimerica not two days after going to see Strange Interlude and discover that I had signed myself up for a second three hour play in one week. Arrgh! My sleep schedule!

But I was very interested by the subject material – a view of modern China as seen by a man who’s looking for the person in the infamous “Man confronts tank at Tian An Men Square” photo. It seems that “changes in China” is quite the topic, since both the Ai Wei Wei play and Consumed were newly produced and written just this year. And for me, well, Tien An Men is at the heart of my political consciousness – it was an event that changed the course of my professional life, putting a stop to my plans to go to Beijing and ride the surging tide of what would soon be the world’s largest economy. I watched the protests day after day on TV, and had been following the rapid changes in the newspapers … and twenty-five years later it seems to have been completely disappeared by the monster nation, swallowed up by stories about pollution, worker abuses, political corruption, and the excesses of the nouveaux riches.

The tale was spun in the very movie-like Headlong way that pretty much guaranteed that you could never get bored as the central cube of the set whirled around, opened screens to show little sets inside, was covered by animated images as it spun to another setting, then carried on WHOOPS HOW ABOUT A GHOST? Lucy Kirkwood wrote the scenes in a short, television-esque style that kept us moving from Beijing to New York to an editor’s office to a strip bar to Beijing circa 1987 and so on, barely a moment to think. Most of the cast played multiple roles, except of course for leads Stephen Campell Moore (as photographer Joe Schofield), Benedict Wong (a radicalizing professor Zhang Lin) and Claudie Blakeley (marketing executive Tessa Kendrick). All of them did solid jobs with their characters, although it was odd seeing Wong back on stage so shortly after his star turn in Ai Wei Wei – a particular accent that he has really marked it as “his” performance. And there was just a tiny bit of spoken Mandarin in many of the scenes just to keep it all real (in small enough drabs that I was able to follow along but felt sure nobody was really missing all that much).

Despite the loveliness of seeing a play with so much in the now in its dialogue, with so much of very modern politics and a genuine humanity at its core, I felt that Chimerica was both too long (several scenes seemed rather pointless) and too skewed toward a white, English-speaking audience. Who really could care about someone looking to “get a story” by finding someone in a twenty-five year old photograph? Joe wants to exploit “tank man,” and in the same way Chimerica exploits its subject(s) to produce what is ultimately a fairly empty entertainment at the expense of creating a deeper understanding …something which could only have happened if the people of China were its core rather than its window dressing. Whether as immigrants, dissidents, cheerful patriotic consumers or cog in the machine of the state, there’s a lot more to China and the modern Chinese condition than this play can be bothered to discuss (perhaps because it would be too “boring” or, God forbid, “foreign” to its intended audience). Maybe the author just didn’t want to do any more research. Who knows. I’m glad, in retrospect, that this play does so much to raise the profile of the Tian An Men square massacre; but ultimately it’s a bit like a fortune cookie: sweet and digestible but only with a Westerner’s ideas of Chinese culture at its heart.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 30th, 2013. My ticket was generously provided by the Almeida.)

Review – King Lear – Almeida Theatre

September 18, 2012

It’s easy to get jaded about theater in London. You get big stars all the time (this for me means movie stars, not TV stars), and a quantity of shows that beggars belief. You get the new stuff, you get the classics, you get MULTIPLE versions of classics in one year.

Well, actually, now we’re starting to talk about the problem areas. Seriously, how many TOP NAME ACTORS do we need to see in Hamlet in one year? Is there any excuse for having three Henry IVs part 1 in the same month? Maybe we should be … doing more experimental work? Maybe the big name actors should be pushing the envelope by getting involved in new shows? I mean … does anyone get the feeling maybe the theaters are trying to play it safe with BIG NAME PEOPLE in REALLY FAMOUS PLAYS? Not that I’m complaining about a Long Day’s Journey with David Suchet, and, hey, that girl from Dr Who is in Lucy Prebble’s new play The Effect at the National (though she’s a TV star – still, enough of an effect to make the show a sell-out before it even went to general booking) … but sometimes it feels like there’s not enough risk taking from the theaters or the actors.

Which, I think, brings us pretty squarely to King Lear at the Almeida Theater. It’s pretty safe programming, and the Almeida has loaded the dice by filling the cast with a bunch of big names, none of which I recognized (this is true in real life for me as well as the theater). However, people were very excited about Jonathan Pryce being in it, and even though I haven’t seen him in anything since Brazil, I thought, hey, I ought to go, especially when the Almeida was being nice and offering some bloggers comps to attend very early in the run. I hoped that I’d be ready for it it even though I’d just got back from a week of kayaking in Sicily and was somewhat suspicious about the need for me to see another Lear so soon after Sir Ian’s performance …

Lear, as ever, starts off by alienating the audience (as he alienates “good daughter” Cordelia, a very regal Phoebe Fox), and part of the journey of the actor is, I think, to pull us around to sympathizing with Lear rather than thinking that we’d throw him out if he were our dad. And, well, ew, for some reason director Michael Attenborough decided to have Lear give some incestuous-seeming kisses to the “good” daughters, and that just turned me against Lear in a way I was not able to overcome across the course of the evening. Gloucester (Clive Wood) is a different story – he is lied to and misled, and shows himself to have a strong moral fiber lacking in at least half of the other characters. Thus, to me, he is a real figure of tragedy; Lear, however, is more of an Oedipus, a man deservingly brought down by the gods for his pride.

The ensemble is very strong in this cast – amazing to see the wealth of talent available to the English stage in the over-sixty set – and the design work is extremely effective in the admittedly small Almeida space. But I was never able to emotionally connect to the action on stage. Perhaps it was too close to my return from a long vacation (though I Am a Camera the night before was very enjoyable) … perhaps it was directorial choices. At either rate, I left unmoved, and with the feeling that for some plays, three years between productions is just not enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012. It continues through November 3rd.)

Mini-review – Filumena – Almeida Theater

April 4, 2012

It’s been nearly a week since I saw Filumena at the Almeida Theater and, as I’ve suspected, I’ve nearly entirely forgotten about it already. Why this 1946 play would be revived is a mystery to me, especially in the watery translation we were provided. I found the language so profoundly filtered through English culture that the Neapolitan was washed right out, except for the scene where Filumena (Samantha Spiro) threatened to kill her long time lover Domenico (Clive Wood) if he reveals her big secret; in that moment of potent violence, right before intermission, I hoped some of the heat of Italy would wash over the bizarre fake Cockney and upper clash posho accents pollluting the entire show like Pimms and cream scones and actually show us the a real flavor of Naples; but it was not to be. Instead we continued on with our friendly, Mary Poppins-esque token old folks Rosalia (Sheila Reed) and Alfredo (Geoffrey Freshwater), both cute and essentially anonymous, good actors wasted in a duff play, and the unfolding of a bit of surprise drama that left me thinking I’d been seriously short-changed at the end of the night. The acting was probably fine. The script is as comforting as a re-run of a favorite sit-com, bland and revealing everything we want to believe about human nature. I’ll take Strindberg, Pinter, and La Bute, thanks.

(This review is for a performance seen on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012. I attended thanks to the Almeida’s friendly invitation to certain bloggers to join them on Press Night. The show continues through May 12th.)

Review – My City – Almeida Theatre

November 1, 2011

Two months ago, a friend told me she was coming out to visit from New York. We reviewed the shows that would be playing, and she said, “This one! I must see My City because I love Tracey Ullman and I love the Almeida!” Well, then. Tickets were bought … but then the reviews began to come out, and I had The Fear. People seemed to be really disliking the show. However, it was sold out for nearly the whole run … was it just celebrity casting? Were my fellow online reviewers not in touch with the theater-going public? Only one way to find out …

As it turns out, My City was an engaging night of story telling with a strong cast, though it failed to fully develop the Roald Dalh-esque ending it seemed to be heading for. The framing of the story is that an adult student (Richard – Tom Riley) runs into his primary school teacher (Lambert – Tracey Ullman) while she’s lying on a park bench and acting not altogether well, a chance encounter that leads into a full-on reunion between the student (and his best school friend and fellow difficult student Julie – Siân Brooke) and the key teachers at the school (a random North London elementary). While the story of the play appears to be something about letting go of the past (poignantly shown by the old posters Mr Minken – David Troughton – has held on to over the years) in order to build yourself a better future, the actual purpose, in my book, is to tell a variety of stories both about the past (a magical London inhabited by elephants and legions of typists, not to mention apple-crunching ghosts) and the present (a rather more frightening world with child murderers and rat hunting), providing an overlay to the city most of us live in – my city to be sure, and likely yours – that makes Old Smoke seem a more exciting place to be. These stories are primarily told by Lambert, with her two assistant teachers (Minken and Summers – Sorcha Cusack) acting by her side, or occasionally taking the lead.

The play gets to quite a head as it becomes clear that Richard has also been telling stories, and his exposure leads to a confrontation between the former students and the retired teachers. It seems that the teachers are conspiring against the kids, somehow, but the playwright has for some reason chosen to not pursue this very interesting avenue – what would, in a Roald Dahl world, been the misanthropic goal of the teachers, forever plotting against their kids? – but rather takes us on a sudden side track in which Richard suddenly figures out the reason for Lambert’s long walks in an extraordinarily unsatisfying finale.

To top it off, the whole trope of “leaving the past behind” seems to me to be utterly upended by the raw beauty of what Mr Minken has held on to over the years – not just the mementos of the children he’s taught, but relics of his family that, to be honest, have created a memory in me that I think will stay forever, of one little box with two precious things in them (my own new mind picture burned in by a real scene stealing performance of how this box came to be what it was). I left the evening disappointed by the play structurally – especially with what it could have done with more time and more imagination – but pleased by the evening.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 31st, 2011. My City continues through Saturday, November 5th.)

Review – A Delicate Balance – The Almeida

June 6, 2011

Edward Albee’s play A Delicate Balance, now some forty-five years old, shows a remarkable agelessness despite its references to topless bathing suits and households where women actually say the men run the show (rather than freely admitting the truth). Questions of social obligations, the problems of alcoholism, and fear of aging and death are just as utterly relevant today as they were when it was written. And, joyously, Albee’s unhappy family is one of the best representatives of the unclassifiable type (of endless unique instances) I’ve seen since John Gabriel Borkman. My God, when they get behind closed doors, the vitriol does pour, and it all gets so much better once the applecart is pushed over. Rather than doing so via a bunch of old family secrets a la August: Osage County, Albee does it with the rather surrealistic arrival of the lead couple’s best friends, who are fleeing some sort of unspoken terror (rather than creditors, angry neighbors, or unacknowledged children). What is this terror? Does it have something to do with senility? Is it existential dread? Are they having a bad trip? No answers are forthcoming and I found myself even more satisfied as a result. (I get the same feeling watching Pinter: the onus of responsibility is on us as an audience to figure out the play’s mysteries and Albee isn’t going to spoonfeed us an answer.)

In this one room, living room drama, we, the audience, are gifted with the vibrant presence of Imelda Staunton, playing Claire, the bad-girl sister of Agnes (Penelope Wilton). She’s a huge character: dressed in red, defending her right to drink incessantly (while not being an alcoholic), and making Agnes look every so prim as she says she has to apologize for Claire’s actions constantly. At one point she parades on stage with an accordion (very “Wecome to Hell“), deciding that as much as things have gone in the crapper it’s time to give it all a soundtrack. It’s perfect: while every other character at least tries to be nice and fit in, Claire really doesn’t care and is, in her way, the only voice of reason. I’d come and see it again for this performance alone.

Lost in her shadow is Lucy Cohu as Agnes and Tobias’s (Tim Pigott-Smith) daughter, Julia. Yes, leaving her fourth marriage is a bit of a “thing,” but Cohu doesn’t make her character very interesting. I think, really, this may be Albee’s fault, as the only real reason for this character to exist is so there is someone to blow up when Harry (Ian McElhinney) and Edna (Diana Hardcastle) announce they’re not just staying overnight but moving in. On the other hand, she is a wonderful character for being picked on, and watching Edna use social norms to reduce Agnes to shreds is just rather lovely if you’re feeling a bit mean.

Oddly, the show starts of so marshmallowy, with Wilton and Pigott-Smith struggling to sound American as they discuss absolutely nothing, that it’s hard to imagine it’s every going to go anywhere. And there are a million meanders (“longeurs” for the more hoity) as the characters talk about senility, AA meetings, and pet cats: really, they have very boring lives. But then there is much more to these late middle aged folks than meets the eye: a need for belonging, a desire to destroy, the desolation of abandonment after a child’s death. This is, in fact, the very kind of play it took the sixties to bring about: a show about people who have trained themselves to appear utterly dead inside finally confronting the reality of the passage of their meat machines through the soon-to-end experience called life and making us feel how it felt to get there and how scary it is to be looking at the end. It’s what we’re all going to have to do, even though we all spend so much time pretending not to notice.

Small complaint: amid the perfect set, the lighting was not right for the “car headlights” cue (always should be two lights, not a bar of light) and the “early October morning” in New England light was too bright and not the right color. Guy Hoare, I’m looking at you. Autumn light is very thin. Fix it if you get a transfer.

Overall, this is just a stupendous script with a strong cast, and even in my crappy, restricted view £8 seat (1/4 of the stage not visible), I loved it fron start to finish (well, from about 10 minutes in until the finish). It’s a great representative of the kind of realistic theater London does perfectly. Unsurprisingly, it is now sold out, but I advise making the effort to get returns for Staunton’s scintillating performance alone.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 3rd, 2011. It runs until July 2nd. Be advised the show runs a full three hours so easy on the pre-show drinking – that said, there’s so much alcohol consumed on stage you’ll find it hard to leave without tossing one down.)

Review – Becky Shaw – Almeida Theater

January 19, 2011

It’s a wonder a theater can ever get me to buy a ticket for a show when I persist in such stupidities as thinking Becky Shaw, the new American play at the Almeida Theater, was in any way, shape or form related to Becky Sharp, the protagonist of Vanity Fair. But sometimes I’m just really thick headed and the beginning of the year, when my brain is full of thoughts of scuba diving on the Red Sea and the Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival, well, I’m just really not thinking “Ooh, I bet that new play with the title that sounds just like the heroine of Thackeray’s 19th century novel has absolutely nothing to do with it and is instead an insightful and yet funny play about modern America;” no, no, I’m looking for easy parallels within the tiny capacity of my brain and I just assumed it was mostly likely an update of Vanity Fair (set in America) and I was hearing it wrong. This kind of thing is an occasional problem when you fetishistically avoid any news whatsover of a new play lest you ruin the enjoyment of seeing a completely unknown script unfold in front of you; sometimes, you really just don’t know what you’re signing up for. Basically I got “funny” and “new play” and “15 quid” (thanks to a deal) and I said, “Okay, fine, Becky Whatever, bring it on!”

As it turns out this play had NOTHING to do with Becky Sharp whatsoever. Despite the potential for catastrophe, I’m so glad I went, as I got, for once, all of the joy of seeing a wonderful new play without a hint of overreaching or pretentiousness or being talked down to; it had an unusual but intriguing story (a blind date gone horribly wrong), fine acting, and a writing style that made me wonder just how so many authors have managed to go wrong when clearly, modern plays in modern settings can be done very well. There’s a prayer that Man in Chair from Drowsy Chaperone says, in short, “Oh please let it be good! And not too long,” and this was, for me and MiC, a prayer answered (though it went a bit over the 2:15 running time – by at least 20 minutes – the night I saw it).

This play works so much better than a million other flash-in-the-pan “issue” plays (hello, Earthquakes in London) because it’s really about people and how the interact with each other and, deliciously, how they lie to each other (and to themselves). Heart of the show is Max (David Wilson Barnes, imported from the off-Broadway cast), who’s got a complicated relationship with his, shall we say, childhood best friend Suzanna (Anna Madeley). He is blunt to the point of asshole with her and everyone else, but his deep love for her seems to animate nearly all of his actions … except for when he’s thinking about how to make money (this being 95% of all of his thoughts). Suzanna is a pile of aggression with major problems with her mother (Hayden Gwynne), who is, meanwhile, far more willful than her daughter but just as aggressive. The three of them are horrible and rude to each other … and very, very funny as they are, underneath it all, both extremely honest, insightful, and caring. I just couldn’t believe how much I was laughing at the three of them being terrible to each other, though: it was so fun watching East Coasters let it rip!

Sadly, neither Becky Shaw (Daisy Haggard) nor fellow Second Act arrival Andrew (Vincent Montuel) seem as well-written or as well acted. Becky starts to become more fun as you start to wonder just how much of her hysteria is put on; meanwhile, Mr Montuel seems to be struggling to make his character seem real. Admittedly, a feminist guy with a Munchhausen complex might be difficult to make sense out of, but his line delivery just seem kind of flat (unlike his pecs, phoar!, but was there really a need for him to be walking around without his shirt on?).

Becky Shaw is an awesome play that knocked me in the head with its familiar depiction of modern, everyday life. We bicker with our parents, we waste time watching bad television, we stomp around our shitty apartments yelling into our cellphones. We form connections with people that we can’t even find the words to express because to say those words out loud would deny the order and simplicity we want our lives to have. That pulse of the modern, banal and transcendent, conflicted and overwhelmed, is something I’ve seen very rarely in new plays. I want to feel the reality of how we live now on the stage, so new and now that it’s like spending an evening with your friends, so familiar that every pop-culture reference sounds like it’s something you just heard on the bus. And for me, an American abroad, to hear it in my vernacular and about my culture was a big bleeding pile of joy, blankie AND bunny slippers AND Kraft macaroni and cheese all at the same time. And it was effortless rather than cutesy or “issue of the month.” Rock on Ms Gina Gionfriddo, well written.

However, in my mind it’s really the triangle between the three people with the longest relationship that seems the most solid; but the whole train-wreck of social circumstances is just a riot to ride. And I did get really caught up in how each of the three leads got to be the way they are. To me, that’s what defines good writing; when you sit there trying to figure out what kind of childhood made a character you just saw on stage into the person they are during the course of the play, because, really, they never existed anywhere at all other than as words written on a page. And for sucking me in and making me laugh, I have to say, good job Gina and thank you Almeida for picking this show. I’ll really be looking forward to seeing her next play.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 18th, 2011. The show continues through March 5th.)

Preview – Slung Low’s “Last Seen” – Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival

June 30, 2009

UPDATE: review of “Last Seen” now posted.

Today’s trip into work left me with a hot tip courtesy of The Metro: Slung Low is doing a site specific show in Islington as part of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. I enjoyed their production Helium last fall, and I like walkabout, site-specific theater (Moonwalking in Chinatown the best I’ve seen since I moved here), so this sounds like a sure win. However, with such a prominent story in the Metro, it’s likely this might sell out, as it’s only five nights (though with a showing at 7 and 9). Get your tickets while you can!

(This preview is for a show running from Wednesday July 8th through Sunday July 12th, 2009.)

Review – In A Dark Dark House – Almeida Theatre

December 7, 2008

Since I enjoyed Fat Pig so much, I was excited when I heard Neil LaBute’s newest play was making its European debut at the Almeida. His writing is very much focused on the American now – not so much the historical moment we find ourselves in as the psychological landscape we live in. I’m not sure if the way I’m wired inside is similar to the English that I live among, but I think it’s different, and I think LaBute gets it. Pinter, I think, is the playwright of the English psyche – a lot of his mysteries can only be understood by those who live here. LaBute seems to understand the lies Americans tell themselves about what they feel and what is important to them, about how they want to be and how they actually act, and about how the react when they realize (or have pointed out) these contradictions. I also very much like his dialogue – it very much sounds appropriate for now, rather than being written in some “high theater” style.

In a Dark Dark House is well suited to the elements I like of his style. The story is about two brothers dealing with some very bad elements of their childhood as well as their relationship with each other. The younger brother Drew (Steven Mackintosh) has made enough of a wreck of his life that he’s wound up at a nut farm/”rehab” facility after a major car crash; he’s asked his estranged elder sibling Terry (David Morrissey) to come and help with his therapy. This all seems pretty pedestrian, even given the serious lack of empathy between the two brothers. In fact, it seems like it’s all going to blow up and the play is going to end rather quickly (though I had no idea where it was going to go) when Terry decides he’s just had enough of his brother’s game-playing bullshit and gets ready to storm of the stage and just leave him to his own devices (and likely jail sentence) when suddenly it comes out what the therapy session is really dealing with; not parental abandonment, not serious physical abuse (at the hands of their father), but child sexual abuse, and Terry’s possible role in allowing this to happen to his brother.

Wow. Suddenly I was sitting up on the edge of my seat. This is not really a topic I’ve seen dealt with much in the theater, and I’ve never seen it handled particularly well. But the effect sexual abuse has in later years on the adults who were its victims, and the particularly squirrely convolutions it has on the relationships between two people who both suffered it at the hands of the same person and then spend years not talking about it to each other … that was really something. I became entirely lost in the dialogue and really focused on the play, quite an achievement given the condition I was in (sleep dep and burnt out from work).

Oddly, it was the second scene that really had me on edge and was also the strongest one of the night. Terry left his brother as an avenging angel out to find the person who screwed them both up. Incongruously, he winds up on a miniature golf course, where Jennifer (Kira Sternbach) is waving her rather underclad (and well toned) bum at the audience while she cleans up the ball tubes (the conversational innuendo in this scene was pretty heavy, so please don’t blame it on me!). This 15 year old, who is rather heavily flirting with Terry, turns out to be … the daughter of the man who sexually abused him and his brother.

Really, just where was it all going to go? As the scene ended, with the tension ratcheted up so high I could almost not bear to watch any more, I had NO idea what the playwright was going to choose to do. We’d already done childhood sexual molestation – did we have any more evils to hit?

The final scene is at Drew’s fancy house; he’s made it out of rehab and is celebrating. Then his brother Terry shows up to tell him about what he’s been up to, and … well, let’s say it doesn’t go well. I enjoyed it, though – it was a good evening out and a peach at 1:45 running time with no interval (forgive me but I was exhausted and the Almeida is a long trek from my house), and I felt well rewarded for trusting to an author I enjoyed to provide me with an energizing and provocative (in ever so many ways) night at the theater.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 4th, 2008. In a Dark House runs through January 17th.)


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