A year in Providence theater
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 20, 2006

LAFF RIOT: Steve Kidd and Tony Estrella in the Gamm’s La Bête.
Oh, what a jaded bunch of seat-warmers we can become, those of us who see a lot of theater — good theater, that is. But now and then we encounter a production or a performance that reminds us of what we knew all along. Such as . . .

That the queen may be dead (or at least teaching at Northwestern), but long live the king
Amanda Dehnert did a fine job during her interregnum year after Trinity Rep artistic director Oskar Eustis went down to New York to head the Public Theater. She entertained us so well with such productions as The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Cyrano de Bergerac that someone could be forgiven for forgetting Curt Columbus had been waiting in the wings since January to take over. He hit the stage running this season with
Cherry Orchard, not only directing it with animation but also using his own translation, being a Chekhov scholar. Providence has a lot to look forward to.

That real emotion never overstays its welcome
Well, maybe a hissy fit would. But in that above-mentioned Russian drama, Joe Wilson Jr. accomplished something as difficult to pull off as it is natural to behold when done right. He was playing Lopakin, the son and grandson of former serfs on an estate who, because of the high-minded ineptitude of the present owner, ended up owning the property himself. Joy was only one dimension we were drawn to empathize with through the character, who started out self-conscious and reluctant to reveal his elation to the bankrupt aristocrats. It didn’t hurt that Wilson is African-American, since that historical parallel amplified a reaction that took Lopakin through a lengthy transition into a man who looked perfectly natural hopping about in amazement.

How stereotypes can become archetypes
Poor Tennessee Williams. All that wrenching anguish growing up, only to become an easy mark for satirists rolling their eyes at his characters’ wretched excesses. Take The Glass Menagerie, for example, in which an overbearing mother gives her writer son plenty of reason to abandon a neurotic household. Playwright Christopher Durang had a grand old time making fun of his better in his playlet For Whom the Southern Belle Rings. In the 2nd Story Theater rendition, Joanne Fayan bent over backwards — literally — to wring comic opportunities out of the passive-aggressive mother in a tour de farce of physical comedy. In her we could see every woman who has lived a life caught between social demands to be ladylike and internal pressure to scream like a tea kettle.

That the straightest way to reality can be through surreality
Speaking of funny sight gags, that and more made Trista Baldwin’s Falling Up hilarious at Perishable Theatre’s International Women’s Playwriting Festival this year. Directed by Laura Kepley, D’Arcy Dersham and Alexander Platt were Laura and Ed, cubicle drones who hadn’t spoken to each other in their office but who finally hook up in a bar after work. They are tense because there is looting in the street and heaven knows what other dystopian calamities. The surreal part, reflecting the psycho-social strain, emerges from his perhaps having a foreign accent (it might be a speech impediment) and his occasionally making unearthly ack-ing sounds (simulating the noise they heard before the office building lights went out). The payoff is the impossibly delightful sight of her climbing him like an alp, until she is perched on his shoulder like a parrot, matter-of-factly chatting. If society would only let us get so physical in public, we might have a lot less stress in this country.

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