Suffering can be humorous; this the Three Stooges understood. The trick is context. Generally, being involved in a car wreck is not funny. Curly, sprinting from a knife-wielding gorilla, is. Natural Theatrical’s latest presentation, Alexa’s Necklace, an original work by Paula Alprin (of Natural Theatricals) and directed by Susan Alison Keady, is a classical example of great wit out of context. Alexa’s Necklace is the story of Esther (played wonderfully by Karen Doubek), a mother literally delusioned by the sudden death of her daughter, Janine (portrayed by both Molly Bennet and most notably by Aimee Meher-Homji). Grief leads to blame, and we expect to be indulged in the psychological battles of a distraught mother.
But that would be too entertaining. Not that the audience is misled for long. From the opening moment, which shows Esther’s flat, sarcastic husband Adam (Tom Pentecost) jogging absurdly like a Marx brother, this viewer begins to speculate that what is being presented is a tragic vaudeville, a serious subject mugged with sarcasms and the physical acting of a Buster Keaton moving-picture. We stay optimistic. After all, a moment or two were worth chuckles. Esther’s imagination, unhinged by grief, leads her to irrational spite. She unjustly blames those around her, including her husband and sister Ella (Paula Alprin) Alprin’s intelligent dialogue regarding the psychological aspects of Esther’s mourning is delivered with a great degree of talent by Jennifer Berg in a scene-stealing portrayal of Alexa, the title character.
Unfortunately, the dialogues are often cut short by manic characterization and ill-placed comedy. Any emotional rise which might have been unearthed in the minds of the audience is throttled, and instead confusion arises, a blank stare from the spectator, and soon we fail to suspend our disbelief and instead watch in awe as a nickelodeon is played out before us, but with less appeal than a nickel is worth. It’s a shame that a play with such a creative concept could fall victim to its own intrusive wit- the result of which is disinterest in the characters and their circumstance, and as a result, simple dislike for them.
That talent rests in Natural Theatricals is clear; the dialogue is clever and doesn’t pander to the audience–it’s never pejorative in nature. Karen Doubix plays Esther wisely, stretching for whatever emotional attachment with the audience can be gathered from the Stooge-esque direction of the script- if nothing else, the subtle reactions she offers her fellow performers are worth note. Jennifer Berg’s Alexa was charming, simple, and by far the greatest performance. Aimee Meher-Homji, in three roles, separates herself entirely from each and shows a talented character actress emerging beneath the manneristic facades.
The fault of Alexa’s Necklace is the mix of too-little reality with slapstick, striving to merge emotional touch with Charlie Chapman’s physical comedy, yet forgetting that a teeter-totter between both results not in fascination, but in distraction. It is a story that does not travel, with sights that cause us to blink rather than gaze. Keady’s direction seems to take its plot seriously but not its characters and we can only hope those actors involved will take it upon themselves to do so in the future. Viewers of the Three Stooges have no sympathy for Curly- we are not expected to, and thus the humor is obvious, taken easily, with no anticipation for psychological stimulus. In the case of Alexa’s Necklace, misplaced direction causes the humor to be more befuddling and dull than clever, and as an audience we wonder of the persons before us- should we care? In the end, we don’t.
www.naturaltheatricals.com 703-739-5895 Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8PM Sunday at 2PM At the George Washington Masonic National Memorial 101 Callahan Dr. Alexandria, Va. Near King St. Metro