When William James's Guy Domville got booed off the stage he never wrote again for theatre. This author (of Tom Jones) did. Thus Fielding's 1737 scathing farce about the politics and management of the about-to-be-censored English theatre was meant to be performed in tandem with Fielding's badly received version of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The sit-comish, Hanoverian evening became a director's medium in the hands of the exceedingly intelligent Shane Baker, who considers himself the foremost revivalist of Fielding's drama. He might do as well with Shakespeare, for he directs action so that it is unnecessary to understand each word. Wherever there's a rose, Baker's actors really smell it.
But despite his spirited, noble, and brave ensemble of actors, the play only furtively caught fire or got funny. Some of Baker's ideas just don't work: whistling and singing modern tunes (accompanied by Mary Rodriguez and Lance Cruce, who also wrote some original ditties) tend to throw period pieces out of kilter. And trying to use the limitations of the theatre's tiny space created some ludicrous effects. Thus, an actor left the stage through the front door, re-entering for the final curtain call. (And it was probably not intended for an actor to pick up an actress bodily, swing her about, and bang her head against the gilded pole that holds up the Nada theatre's ceiling.)
Among the actors, Chris Hurt had a nice voice and big energy. Ken Leung played the author's surrogate with force and fervor. The striking Rebecca Wisocky's very eyebrows know how to steal the scene from her classic Grecian face. And Steve Carter as Orpheus went beyond the call of duty by shaving most of his head to create comic stage effects.
Not until Mercedes Bahleda as the title character began to intoxicate the play with her portrayal of a Eurydice who prefers Hades to a boring life on Earth with Orpheus did the director find the perfect instrument with which to realize his vision. The others tried hard and many did a credible job; but Bahleda grabbed Fielding by the balls and kept tugging. The director also appeared pseudonymously (and enthusiastically).
The campy, tacky costumes included such devices as an occasional scarf, a torn shoulder, women's gowns, a tux, and a jacket that looked like an upended davenport on actor Frank Kamai. But the Devil's costume was inspired, with cloven hooves, a ``real'' tail (which was safety-pinned), and horns, all sported by the devilishly good looking Peter Hermann. Also inspired was the costume credited to Rachelle Starr, which made the boatman Charon look like a crow in a cowboy hat: perfect daytime wear for summer on the Styx.
Some scenery from Hell (flame cut-outs) didn't quite make up for the scant budget. And the only lighting effect worth noting was an actor holding a flashlight over his head to read from a script. You still couldn't see much.
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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