ONE AND ANOTHER, PART ONE
Blind Parrot Productions
As it is proud of pointing out in its press material, Blind Parrot Productions has made a point in its eight years of existence of boldly producing works most theaters would be afraid to–plays by writers such as Len Jenkin, Howard Brenton, and Maria Irene Fornes that challenge the stagnant realist traditions that still dominate British and American theater. That daring makes the company’s maddeningly timid current show–three unrelated one-acts collected under the forgettable title One and Another, Part One (One and Another, Part Two will be produced in April)–all the more surprising. None of the three shorts that make up the program–Elizabeth Wray’s Forecast, Claire Dowie’s Adult Child/Dead Child, and Lavonne Mueller’s Colette in Love–takes the kind of brilliant risks we’ve come to expect from Blind Parrot.
The first play on the bill, Forecast, is set in some unknown future and begins with a bizarre premise: an American astronaut crash-landing near a Peruvian peasant woman’s potato patch. Yet the sweet parable that unfolds as the spacey American and the earthbound Peruvian fall ever so slowly in love is hardly ground-breaking work, despite Wray’s halfhearted attempts to work into her script a few comments about America’s wrongheaded interventions in Central and South America. Anyone addicted to TV sitcoms of the mid to late 60s has seen plenty of work that bends the rules more playfully than this silly little play. Without Diana Esther, who plays the Peruvian woman with enough charm and wit to make the love story seem plausible, this one-act would have been a disaster.
Adult Child/Dead Child is the riskiest and most successful play of the evening, thanks to Dowie’s powerful script, Patti Hannon’s direction, and an outstanding performance from Peggy Burr. It consists of a 20-minute confessional monologue–the harrowing story of an abused child, her gradual flight from reality, and her eventual return to the world thanks to a sympathetic counselor and some effective drug therapy.
Burr gives the kind of sincere, heartfelt performance most actresses only imagine they are delivering. She flawlessly carries off every emotional high and low, every comic moment (of which there are a surprising number), and every moment of quiet desperation. Over the course of the monologue we see her change from a little girl to a rebellious adolescent to a psychotic young adult–without any of the usual affectations associated with the portrayal of children, teenagers, or the mentally ill.
If the evening ended after Adult Child/Dead Child, it could be called a modest success. But after intermission we are given Colette in Love, the longest and least interesting play on the program. It’s surprising that anyone at Blind Parrot would think this flat and essentially plotless bit of realistic theater was worth producing. But why produce it in a way that emphasizes the worst things about the script –the lack of action, the assumption that the audience knows all about Colette?
Mueller’s play is set in Colette’s dressing room between performances of her notorious music-hall act, which scandalized and fascinated Parisian audiences before World War I. It tells us precious little about the author-turned-performer beyond the most widely known facts about her life: that she was a notorious bisexual, libertine, and bon vivant, and that she wrote the popular “Claudine” series, for which her husband took credit. Instead we are treated to long conversations between Colette and the three most important lovers in her life–her ex-husband Willy, her current male lover Max, and Missy, her current female lover. The conversations are separated by brief musical segments that represent Colette’s music-hall act.
In the right hands this sedentary play might have been interesting, especially if one could find an actress as alluring and charismatic as Colette herself. Clare Nolan-Long is not that actress. She captures none of what critic Andre Billy praised about Colette’s performance–“the feline movement of the pupils, the warm tint of the voice, its so curious, so nostalgic higher tone, broken suddenly by a burst of laughter or of anger.” Instead she gives us an actress in a black wig and so much badly applied eye makeup that in her worse moments she looks like a man in drag. To make matters worse, she delivers all of her lines in the same flat, midwestern monotone, whether she is telling a funny story about seeing Proust at the stationer’s or leading her lover over to the divan for an afternoon tryst.
In fact, everyone seems out of place in this poor excuse for a production. David Lamar Dosch as Willy couldn’t be more unconvincing if he played the role in a chicken suit, and Stephen Vasse-Hansell as Max seems so sexless and so uninterested in sex with Colette that during his supposed seduction of her he removes his clothing with all the gusto of a man stripping down for a medical exam. The same goes for Wendy Fulton as Missy, though because she was an understudy on opening night her timidity may be forgiven.
What cannot be forgiven is the way director John Hightower allows the play to drag on and on. It’s hard not to wonder whether the sudden death last September of one of Blind Parrot’s talented artistic directors, David Perkins (responsible for two of the company’s most successful productions, Oedipus Requiem and Largo Desolato) hasn’t left a larger creative vacuum than anyone has imagined.