It's distressing to see a play that has flashes of promise fall apart under the weight of its own contrivances, but it is particularly unfortunate when it is rendered hopeless by one performance.
The Luminous Group's production of Colin Pink's The Inner Circle had some good things going for it - it was a handsome production, with a fine set (Elizabeth Wunch), great costumes (Emily Horton), good original music (Andrew Recinos), well-intentioned if confused lighting (Sebastian Paczynski), and three excellent performances (Bruce DuBose, Kristina O'Neal, Mickey Pantano).
The play takes place in London, which means accents, not an undue hardship. Director David Koppel encouraged DuBose, O'Neal, and Pantano to underplay the speech patterns, and each managed to project feelings and thoughts even when not provided with them by the playwright. But Jennifer Rice did not seem to have attended the same rehearsals as the rest, as her speech, vocal modulation and acting ability were at a wide variance. It was also the kind of performance that highlights, rather than hides, a play's shortcomings.
DuBose was Simon, a painter for whom other people are there simply to be used as tools for his talent. O'Neal was Debbie, his long-time and long-term-suffering girlfriend, who drinks too much. Pantano was Marcia, who modeled for Simon some years ago for a successful series of paintings, the legacy of which was a heroin addiction. Rice was Kay, Simon's newest model, toy, and (unbelievably) nemesis. DuBose was completely believable as the talented user and abuser, and he even helped keep the audience from noticing that his character's asthma turns out to be the equivalent of Chekhov's gun. O'Neal was terrifically adept at combining neediness, anger, and frustration with an appealing vulnerability. Pantano was on shakier ground at first, but she humorously showed her character's self-awareness even as she was clearly self-destructive. But Rice, as Kay, used a Cockney accent so fake and loud it would make the chorus of My Fair Lady sound legitimate, and she recited lines without any sense of meaning or humanness.
And as the play's dénouement belongs to Kay, this was the fatal blow to The Inner Circle. The other actors, including Tyne Firmin in the brief role of Simon's art dealer, could have distracted the audience from the play's gimmicky plot. In fact, when Marcia encourages Debbie to start painting again, playwright, director, and actors showed what might have been. Instead of making it a way for Debbie to express herself, it became a plea for help - Marcia has nothing in her life, and modeling for Debbie will give her a purpose, and possibly a way out. When Simon belittles Debbie's efforts, a dynamic is finally in place, which might have substance. But then Kay shows up again, and all bets are off.
So the audience was left wondering at the rapid approach of dusk in Act One; could enjoy the electronic music completely suitable to these emotionally starved characters; and could appreciate the ecstatically tacky outfits Marcia wore. And wonder how the Limburger got onto the cheese plate.
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler