From time to time I take a moment to clear off the back burner. In the midst of professional and personal turmoil I must delay certain pieces, bearing in mind that these theaters have been gracious enough to permit me to attend their shows, with the full knowledge that I cannot post the reviews before the performance run ends. I thank them for their infinite patience as I navigate the minefield of unresolved endeavors. In this case the venues were Sibling Revelry Productions and Rover Dramawerks. Both are theaters that function off the mainstream radar, but still manage to make meaningful contributions to the theatre being performed in the DFW Metroplex.
From the latter part of September to early October, Sibling Revelry produced Moliere’s Tartuffe, changing the setting from 17th Century France to contemporary Santa Fe, New Mexico. Moliere can be especially challenging, he has a distinct way of manipulating syllables and accents (like Shakespeare, only not as subtle). Casts and audiences can find it very difficult indeed to get past the dense, decorous language, to the substance of the piece, in this case, the scheming, hypocritical religious zealot, Tartuffe. The patriarch of a family, perceiving Tartuffe to be an unfortunate, homeless spiritual prophet, takes him into his home, and family. I was delighted and impressed how the players, director Deoborah Peck Corra, et al, were able to make this satire very accessible, relevant and amusing. It certainly helped to change the milieu, but more than that, it takes dedicated, focused acting to the transmit the sense behind the lines, that gives them their immediacy and punch. They took an historical text, and made it their own, and made it fly. Before Tartuffe, Sibling Revelry staged another comedy, Taxidermania this time by local playwright Everett Newton. Taxidermania tells the loopy, hilarious story of Roy Don and Granger, two men running a taxidermy shop in a small town in East Texas. Times are so hard that Roy Don must consider letting Granger go, even though he is dating his niece Hailey. Thankfully, though Granger has an inside man at the zoo, who can provide them with the “material” for eBay transactions, while making the animal’s demise look accidental. As if that weren’t bad enough, the bank is on the verge of foreclosing on Roy Don’s business. As you might expect, these details are merely grist for Newton’s comedic mill, which has produced a very original, entertaining, agreeably eccentric play in Taxidermania. The characters all seem to be just this side of certifiable, and that makes for a great evening of giddy, pleasurable nonsense.
Through most of September Rover Dramawerks staged an early, experimental play: Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer (who also wrote : The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus and Amadeus). Originally staged in 1965, Black Comedy is predicated on an ingenious conceit : if a group of people with hidden animosity towards one another were plunged into darkness for a prolonged amount of time, how would they behave? For logistical reasons, the actors must pretend they are handicapped in this way. But you begin to catch on from director Lisa Devine’s discretionary choices that this premise is launching pad for pondering the nature of truth and salience. What aspects of reality are we simply unwilling to confront, even when they’re unmistakably on display?
Briefly, Brindsley, a sculptor and Carol, his fiancee, are about to entertain some guests, including a wealthy and influential art collector, who could very possibly provide Brindsley with some desperately needed patronage. The couple has borrowed their next door neighbor’s furniture and art objects to make a good showing for the gathering. The lights blow out and Clea, Brindsley’s ex-girlfriend, sneaks in under cover of darkness. Hearing them make catty remarks, she proceeds to wreak havoc, using the lack of electricity to her advantage.
There were a couple of problems with the play itself, I thought. Clea is extremely obnoxious, so it’s hard to enjoy her “antics“, and the sympathy we feel for Brindsley, while involving us in the plot, distracts us from Shaffer’s intentions. It took some time to realize we’re really not supposed to like any of the characters. That being said, Devine, who never tackles easy or one-dimensional texts, has again manifested brilliance with Black Comedy. It all happens with such velocity and unexpected developments that it takes awhile to process. A lot of came together for me after I left the theater, but that doesn’t matter.
What we are able to grasp during Black Comedy is more than enough to keep us intrigued and engaged throughout the performance. Any literature of substance has a lot going on between the lines and Devine had the expertise and inspiration to see the layers and layers of subtext in the script, while still keeping the narrative thread connected. Kudos to Devine and Rover for having the vision to risk this marvelously unorthodox and compelling show.
Sibling Revelry Productions, The ArtCentre Theatre, 5220 Village Creek Drive, Plano. www.artcentretheatre.com Rover Dramawerks, The Cox Building Playhouse1517 H Avenue (parking and entrance on G Avenue)Plano, TX, 75074. 972-849-0358