From Shakespeare to “Arrested Development”, when family and large inheritances mix, things are bound to get messy. Arcturus Theater Company’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s surrealist The Pelican delivers an arresting look at the corrosive effects of greed, mental illness, and keeping up appearances at all costs.
The play begins with a typical chamber drama exchange between the Mother, played with haughty confidence by Wendy Wilmer, and the Maid, played by Jamie Crowne. Mother directs the details of the house according to her unpredictable whims, while the Maid listens and obeys begrudgingly. It’s a tidy microcosm of the simmering tension that has built over the years within the ramshackle estate.
Soon, Mother’s son Fredrik enters to discuss the details of the estate following his father’s sudden death. As Fredrik, David Johnson brings a flippant, juvenile energy that reveals just how little he’s developed in the house’s toxic environment. While he occasionally relies on excessive hand gestures to get his point across, he soon settles into a rhythm within the claustrophobic mansion.
Enter the smooth-talking Ryan Carlo. As two-timing lothario Axel, Carlo swaggers about the stage as if he owns the place. He and Mother immediately fall into an easy chemistry, forming a perfect odd couple as they scheme about how to split the spoils of the dead father’s estate. Gerda – daughter to the Mother and wife to Axel, soon interrupts their secret rendezvous. As Gerda, Emily Sucher paints a bleak picture of a woman starved of affection and nourishment over many unhappy years.
After a jealous exchange with Axel, Gerda meets with her brother Fredrik to discuss their shared childhood traumas. David Johnson’s earlier overacting is forgiven by his quality work in an affecting brother-sister scene, wherein Fredrik convinces Gerda to speak up and fight for what she really wants. Johnson goes on a tear, digging into long buried family secrets and laying bare the terrible truth of their seemingly orderly childhoods. His outburst is just the first domino in a series of escalating confrontations that threaten to tear the house apart.
closes May 22, 2016
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Sucher and Carlo put in strong work as they vent their fury at Mother’s years of neglect. Wilmer, for her part, shines as an unwitting antagonist teetering between remorse and total detachment from reality. The vengeful spirit haunting Mother’s every step certainly doesn’t help her fragile mental state. Inventive ghost effects by Technical director Jeff Maione and crew help turn the simple set into a red-tinged nightmare.
In The Pelican, director Ross Heath and collaborators punch above their weight class to spin a taut, breathless production from a lesser-known Swedish text and modest budget. Aside from the occasional overwrought scene, this twisted dramatic cousin to “Great Expectations” is a strong outing by Arcturus – and a stark reminder to be nice to your family.
The Pelican by August Strindberg . Translated by Joe Martin . Directed by Ross Heath . Produced by Arcturus Theater Company . Featuring: Wendy Wilmer, David Johnson, Emily Sucher, Ryan Carlo, and Jamie Crowne . Tailoring by Constance DeSouza .Technical Direction by Jeff Maione . Stage Managed by Allie Alexander . Produced by Arcturus Theater . Reviewed by Ben Demers.
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