‘She’s a Whore’ at Theatre on Edge; Itchey Foot’s ‘Not Lewis Carroll’; ‘Lady From the Sea’ at Fountain Theatre; ‘False Teeth’ at East West
“Tis Pity She’s a Whore,’ John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy of incest, revenge and blasted souls, is rarely staged, with good reason. Its excesses are relentless. But a new company, Theatre on the Edge, has reshaped the drama into a rock musical at the Olio Theatre that is notable for its brash fury.
Director Robert A. Prior’s adaptation takes the bloody text by Ford (1586-1640), and unleashes it into an orbit full of amusing anachronisms. The costumes by Barbara Cox are Renaissance-by-way-of-Frederick’s of Hollywood. The jaded party scenes and the horrid wedding party suggest “La Dolce Vita.” The duels and gore are Shakespearean. Twice a dagger sailed off the stage and under this reviewer’s seat.
The story is about an aristocratic brother and sister (played with a nice purity of feeling by Gregg Rainwater and Manjit Kapany) who are passionately in love. Events compel the sister to marry a temperamental nobleman (a dashing, reckless Dane Christopher), but not before she has already conceived a child with her brother.
Subplots spiral, led by Chris Spitler’s scabrous, leather-clad bodyguard (and the show’s outstanding rocker) and Erin Connelly’s vicious widow.
The Gothic dynamics of the production are propelled by the alternately urgent/dreamy score by composer Andrew Yeater. The percussive music is live, electronic and synthesized from Yeater’s perch high above the stage.
The result, despite the need to trim more material, is surprisingly raucous and viscerally compelling.
An opening 20-minute work, “The Vision of Eros,” directed by Erin Connelly, transforms 11 of Shakespeare’s sonnets into dance imagery, performed by the same company. It’s superfluous, though, to the evening of lust ahead.
‘I Am Not Lewis Carroll’
A semi-formal evening with the author of “Alice in Wonderland” becomes a beguiling adventure at the Itchey Foot Cabaret.
Actor Dan Bredemann, with an eagerness and fussiness that is endearing, creates a warm and alternately anxious vision of Oxford professor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll).
The one-man show, directed by Alan Weitzman, is a dimensional re-creation of a celebrated children’s author whom most of us know only as a strange, shy, wondrous storyteller with a fixation on pre-pubescent girls.
Here, in material Bredemann based on Dodgson’s books and countless personal letters, we see the man’s vulnerability, his enthrallment with the real-life Alice, and catch a glimmer of the wand he waved over the rabbit hole.
A camera on a tripod is a major image. Carroll’s photographs of little girls is never depicted as anything less than genuine love, and Bredemann’s portrayal is devoid of any suggestion of pedophilia. When Dodgson delights over a little girl’s “flounced, buttoned, frilly dress,” it’s pure as the driven snow. Little boys, however, in a revealing flashback, are sticks and stones. The adult Dodgson is haunted by a nasty trick played on him in boarding school by cruel schoolmates.
Dodgson, who would often deny he was Lewis Carroll (hence the title “I Am Not Lewis Carroll”), is introduced as an inventive young man of 33 cleverly entertaining a child in his Oxford study. We see him 14 years later, after his success with his “Alice” books, vaguely uncomfortable with the adult world while dwelling (at unnecessary length) on his not altogether blissful friendship with the famous 19th-Century British actress Ellen Terry.
Bredemann, who looks like Oscar Wilde, at times seems too robust for the role. Nevertheless, fragility and eccentricity illuminate the interpretation.
‘The Lady From the Sea’
Non-traditional casting in the major female role lights up Henrik Ibsen’s psychological study of a woman’s quest for freedom of choice in the tender “The Lady From the Sea” (1888).
Jeanne Sakata’s Asian Norwegian strongly serves the cause of colorblind casting as Sakata impressively dramatizes the quiet determination of a wife drawn to a mesmerizing sailor from the sea.
Director Meg Kruszewska’s production at the Fountain Theatre is polished, blending softly the requisite mystery and flecks of humor in a thematic work that echoes “A Doll’s House” and anticipates Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.”
Set in an upper-middle-class ocean-side retreat, Ibsen’s play of feminine Angst rings with contemporaneity. The production swerves straight to the issue: When the possessive, incredulous husband here--nicely played by Mark Ringer--finally does release his wife to the stranger from the sea she reclaims her integrity and the power and responsibility to choose.
The gawky, invalid suitor is touchingly, lovingly rendered by Sanford Clark. Timm Ottman’s shadowy sailor, Brynn Baron’s older sister, and Patrick Rowe’s family guest all enjoy texture. And the mood is bolstered by Natasha Beyeler’s costumes and Ken Booth’s lighting scheme.
What seriously flaws the show is the miscasting and the curiously poor direction of Kate Asner as the family’s younger daughter. She is unremittingly screechy and much too teen-age American to be in the least convincing.
‘Laughter and False Teeth’
Playwright Hiroshi Kashiwagi and director Robert Ito spent part of their youths interned in Japanese-American relocation camps during World War II. So it is a curiosity that “Laughter and False Teeth” at East West Players is a comedy, and not a very dark one at that. (It, incidentally, coincides with the resignation of Mako as East West’s artistic director).
The production is directed with verve, but its failure to touch on racial prejudice or even convey a sense of an internment camp blunts its purpose. The plot, which depicts people resourcefully overcoming oppression, centers on a winsome but toothless madam and the men eager to supply her with false teeth.
The strategy here recalls the internment camp variety show in the 1985 East West Players production of “Christmas in Camp II,” but without any sense of captivity.
The play was written in 1954 and rarely staged. Some Japanese-Americans have been sensitive to its humorous portrayal of camp.
Set against a painted background of mountain peaks, the production features a kimono-clad chorus and Brechtian elements mixed with realism. Yoshio Be Moriwaki’s disconsolate boiler man and Fei-Ru’s deranged mother are the only characters in the 12-member cast who act like they’re incarcerated.
The show is stylistically too busy to develop its one provocative theme: a conflict between a dentist (Zar Acayan) gung-ho to fight for Uncle Sam and his lab assistant Tojo (Ken Katsumoto), fiercely loyal to the Japanese emperor.