Transformations

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  April 27, 2010

Particularly in the laboratory, where the zapping and sparking reanimation gizmos are powered by what look like elevators flashing Christmas lights, the production design is less crumbling and macabre than mechanically impressive and garish. The performers, though, are well-honed, well-hoofed, and vocally adept, with Bart an impish, bristle-coiffed mad scientist winking at audience anticipation of his lines, and Corey English a mischievous Igor, chunkier if less frog-eyed than Marty Feldman. Rye Mullis’s Monster is big yet boyish, as intended — though Joanna Glushak’s Vampira-like Frau Blucher, applying a Kurt Weill–ish sneer to “He Vas My Boyfriend,” is scarier. Brooks vet Brad Oscar makes the shticky most of both bionic Inspector Kemp and a blind, operatic hermit. Beth Curry, less giddy than Madeline Kahn, is nonetheless an assured Elizabeth, her inner vixen unleashed and temples whitened by sex with the monster. And as eager-to-please-and-pleasure Inga, Anne Horak displays pipes almost as impressive as her cleavage.

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THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD: Chameleonic American Repertory Theater stalwart Karen MacDonald is better than the playwright has any right to ask for.

Rashômon goes to the mall in The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead (at Merrimack Repertory Theatre through May 16). What director Melia Bensussen dubs Robert Hewett’s “puzzle of connection” originated not in Japan but in Australia, where it made its debut in 2004. Yet it does, like the Kurosawa film, present the story of a crime from various contradictory perspectives. The trick is that all seven characters (among them the title women and a couple of folks who are not women at all) are played by a single performer — in this case, chameleonic American Repertory Theater stalwart Karen MacDonald, who is both everything and better than Hewett has any right to ask for.

What this one-woman, multi-character, caustically amusing if ultimately saccharine comedy has going for it (apart from the versatile MacDonald) are its unexpected twists and turns — each of which expands on both the randomness and the somewhat slippery veracity of what has gone before. So it is not for a reviewer to ruin the surprises by supplying a road map to events or even characters, who run the gamut not only of gender but of maturity, with some accents thrown in if only to spike the degree of difficulty. (MacDonald is better at Bronx than Brit.)

It is probably fair, though, to identify the members of the narrative team named in the title. The vengeful redhead, whom we meet first, is about as far from the Rita Hayworth type conjured by her angry ID as you could imagine. Rhonda Russell is a mousy sort, self-described as naive, who used to work in IT but has taken to the dull if comfortable life of a suburban wife and mom — and whose non-communicative spouse has recently left her, phoning in that news from his desk at work. The brunette is expansive, tackily clad sexpot neighbor Lynette, who puts pedal to the metal of events that, coupled with ill luck and chance, lead to tragedy. And the high-haired blonde — an authoritative Russian who calls herself “the minx from Minsk” and presides over a mall jewelry store — is the sexual obsession of the decamped husband.

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