Mental illness is everywhere, especially in Mark Borkowski's intriguing but flawed The Noisemakers. Winner of a 1996 Playwright's Fellowship Grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, The Noisemakers takes on the rocky terrain of damaged (and damaging) familial relationships, child abuse, Catholicism, and the soul-destroying effects of urban living with an almost Jacobean sense of doom and despair. Borkowski's characters are larger than life, their emotions are outsized in even the quietest moments, and the situations he puts them in rival almost anything found in Webster or Ford. And although at times the precision of his characters' insane babblings is dazzling, Borkowski's imprecise and meandering plotting tends to slow things down considerably. (Using an old fashioned three-act format, the evening played out at a lengthy 2 hours and 40 minutes.) The pace did pick up in the final act, but the denouement is so over-the-top as to be almost laughable - the evening ends as a father's wish for expiation for his sins against his children leaves him lying on a makeshift cross, calling pathetically for his son to drive the nails through his hands and feet. It should be horrifying, but somehow it just isn't.
Robert Haufrecht directed with a sure hand; finding and maintaining a fine line between the comic and dramatic, he made the evening as clear as the text would allow. He was also blessed with an ensemble of topnotch actors who gave it everything they had. As Edwin, the insane father, Dunsten J. Cormack was alternately warm and chilling; as his equally insane son Bo, Robert Stevens gave a powerhouse performance of shattering depth and detail. Susan Mitchell gave Bo's long-suffering wife Sissy a beautifully wistful dizziness; Ron Moreno played her sleepy, profoundly disturbed brother Leo (he cannot connect with other human beings, only with the angels who visit him at night) with narcoleptic charm; in very small roles, Marie Vassalo, and Joan Porter Hollander performed with dedicated grace. (Hollander, on stage for barely five minutes, had a program bio nearly three times longer than anyone else.)
Gabriela Niscolescu's sets and costumes did the job with perfunctory professionalism, Kevin Renden's lighting perhaps a tad more so. Common Basis Theatre's sound system isn't the greatest, but even the poorest systems should be able to fade out on a sound instead of ending it with an abrupt click. In any event, the natural street noises that are always a part of the CBT experience actually worked to this production's advantage, offering a gritty realism that served the setting and mood very well.
Ultimately, while rage, insanity, Catholic dogma and guilt have
been mainstays of theatrical plotting for centuries, The Noisemakers
currently lacks that joltingly concise sense of purpose it needs.
But at least there is someone out there trying to write 'em like
they used to.
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita