By Ronnie Ruff
As our website and coverage of the local theatre scene has evolved I find myself drawn to two kinds of theatre. First off I love musicals – I love them mostly because I also have a love of all genres music and that obsession tends to fuel a love of old fashioned musical theatre. Now as DC Theatre Review readers know Mr Markowitz has written a compilation of his favorite performances in musicals this past season so I have decided to compose a list of my five favorite plays of last season. I pulled this from the shows I actually saw, so I reread my thoughts at the time and came up with my list. Now keep in mind I saw about fifty plays and musicals this past season. I must also say I really enjoy theatre in the small venues that tend to be more intimate and bring you right into the actual production. OK, all of that said here is my list for 2005 – 2006.
My favorite play of the year was: This Lime Tree Bower – Scena Theatre
Warehouse’s small black box, a small table and chairs with Dan Brick, Eric Lucas and Joe Baker.. They recited an Irish tale full of laughs and fine lessons learned; storytelling is something these lads are very, very good at. These three actors and director Robert McNamara take this play by Conor McPherson and turn it inside out, upside down and every which way but loose.
Joe, Frank (Joe’s Brother) and Ray (University Professor) tell a coming of age story… or is it a story of moral dilemmas? or personal demons? Joe starts the tale off and around the table the story is passed, first to Ray, then Frank. Before you know it Ray gets violently ill while asking a distinguished speaker at an academic function a question, Frank has performed an armed robbery to protect his father from would be loan shark Simple Simon and Joe has witnessed a brutal rape in a local cemetery. And what’s more all three stories are intertwined by play’s end. Each of the play’s actors deliver complex, brilliant performances! Joe Baker’s stage presence has grown by leaps and bounds since his role in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, Eric Lucas also seen in last season’s Streetcar Named Desire is at his witty, sarcastic best and Dan Brick continues his masterful ability to bring depth and feeling to his roles as witnessed by his work in Solas Nua’s Disco Pigs, Misterman and Howie The Rookie. The staging was simple with just a table, chairs, a few cold beers and the skyline of an Irish town across the back wall of the Warehouse black box. The lighting effects included some back lighting of the skyline during an evening scene, a very simple but pleasing addition. If storytelling is a lost art this show is testament that it has been rediscovered with Scena’s mounting of This Lime Tree Bower. Funny and irreverent this show was a highly entertaining evening of theatre.
A close second was: Bedbound – Solas Nua
Edna Walsh has yet to achieve the popularity in America that Conor McPherson has but he is, none the less, one of the most important new playwrights in contemporary Irish theatre. Solas Nua, one of the most exciting local theatre companies around mounted Bedbound, Walsh’s 2000 play at the DCAC in Adams Morgan.
A young woman with polio (Linda Murray) and her psychotic father Maxie (Brian Hemmingsen) offer anger filled descriptions of their lives and explain how circumstances have brought them to a place of suffering and revelations.
Ms. Murray and Mr. Hemmingsen delivered performances that grabbed Walsh’s wordy monologues with a firm, white knuckled grip that left the audience all but speechless. A play of almost dizzying complexity, both actors were able to move from almost coma like postures to high pitched frenzy with ease. Dan Brick’s direction was amazing – Solas Nua has an extremely talented pair of directors (Brick-Murray) that are able to take each new production to heights usually only achieved by long established companies. The staging of Bedbound was simply excellent, creatively distinct lighting and smooth eerie sound add to the well designed set.
Solas Nua does not produce light weight theatre – their productions are complex, multi-layered visions of contemporary Irish theatre that are meant to shock, amuse and above all make you think. Bedbound was all of that, a claustrophobic treasure that elevates Solas Nua to another level of performance.
Not too far behind was: Someone To Watch Over Me – Catalyst Theater Company
A story about three men being held hostage in a basement somewhere in Lebanon, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me displayed real emotion but was not meant to be a realistic portrayal of hostage situations. What Catalyst produced was a story about the bonds human beings develop in the worst of situations. feelings, emotions and strength of resolve take center stage over missing plot details that never surface. The three men, Adam from the United States, Michael from the UK and Edward from Ireland watch over each other and bond through harsh conditions as hostages but even the death of one of the men does not lessen their resolve. It is the power of human bonding that is staged and the emotional level is always at the forefront.
There were three actors in this production and their performances were terrific. Yes, the part of Adam (Christopher Janson) was a little under developed but the connections that were made and the emotions portrayed were distinctive and magical. Cecil Baldwin as Michael displayed a range far beyond anything I have seen him accomplish in past performances and Dan Via as the quiet Irishman Edward was a bottle rocket waiting to explode,a jumble of emotional energy and quiet strength.
Someone To Watch Over Me, number three because of fantastic acting and a wonderful story of strength under pressure
WSC’s spy thriller was fourth: Hapgood – Washington Shakespeare Company
WSC’s production Hapgood opens in the men’s changing rooms of a public swimming pool where a complex trade of top secret information is taking place. Briefcases slide under this door then that door so many times it takes quantum physics to explain it. The exchange goes bad and Hapgood (Kathleen Akerley) our heroine could be the spy to blame. Enter Kerner played by Bruce Alan Rauscher, Kerner is a Russian defector and double agent who is working on a Star Wars weapon based on quantum physics. After the botched exchange he can no longer be trusted so the Russians kidnap Hapgood’s son (Brandon Thane Wilson) and hold him for the obvious ransom. It will take a savvy plan, some cloak and dagger antics and big chrome hand guns to ensure his safe return. This show had great style, supurb acting and wonderful wit.
And number five was: The Memorandum – Forum Theatre and Dance
The Memorandum, a biting commentary on bureaucracy and the silliness that can be its result, was Forum Theatre and Dance’s final production of its 2005-2006 season. The production was directed by artistic director Michael Dove and written by Vaclav Havel.
The play is a grand parody of bureaucratic craziness. The head of an unnamed agency, Josef Gross (Sasha Olmick) is blackmailed into going along with Ptydepe, a synthetic language designed to make office communications more effective. Office communication is “job one” in this madcap office…. An explosive breakdown in communication to say the least follows.
An extremely funny and flowing satire, The Memorandum looked at our everyday power games, in this case those in the office.
Mr. Dove’s direction kept Memorandum moving crisply throughout the production. Characters moved on and of stage briskly, so briskly that it added to many of the humorous situations.
Forum’s The Memorandum was tightly knit and finely spun, a show that tickled the funny bone while poking fun at government bureaucracy.