The Mystery of Irma Vep

04/29/2001 - 06/05/2001

In The Mystery of Irma Vep, the late playwright Charles Ludlam set out to spoof as many gothic clich's using as few actors as humanly possible. Thus two men play multiple roles -- at times making costume changes that seem virtually instantaneous -- in a plot that riffs on pulp novels, Rebecca, Gaslight and innumerable vampire, werewolf and mummy movies from Universal and Hammer studios. 

David Crowe plays both Lord Edgar of Hillcrest manor and the sinister housekeeper Jane. Yet despite giving Edgar a milquetoast manner and Jane a nasal voice worthy of Mel Blanc, Crowe is the more reserved of the two-man cast. He gives plenty of space to Hugh Adams, who flounces hilariously as Edgar's dim new wife Enid, limps lasciviously as a one-legged Scottish servant and lisps flamboyantly as an Egyptian guide (who pronounces "sarcophagus" as "sarco-fag-us").

Fefu and Her Friends

03/04/2001 - 04/10/2001

Irene Maria Fornes' Fefu and Her Friends depicts a gathering of eight women at a large New England mansion, and the middle act consists of four scenes held at separate places in the facility. The audience divides into four groups, files through the theater and watches each episode in turn. 

Thus the entrance to the theater doubles as the lawn, a storage room, a study, etc. It's a gimmicky device, but it puts an interesting spin on the notion of the "fourth wall" of a performing space, as well as offering a fun tour of the playhouse's backstage area. But mostly, it's like being on a scavenger hunt, only the object of the game isn't to find a physical prize, but the meaning of the play itself. 

Fefu and Her Friends, written in 1977 and only now having its Southeastern professional premiere, is not a play that's easily puzzled out. In exploring the ways women see themselves and how they believe men see them, Fornes shows little concern for adhering to narrative rules or meeting audience expectations. Fornes' Fefu is driven not by plot, but an odd combination of cheerful party dynamics and deeper, darker forces, and its scenes can please or provoke, but rarely fully satisfy. 

Fefu (Patricia French) plays host to seven friends in 1935 for a meal and a politically motivated meeting. Aggressively nonconformist, she's prone to outlandish remarks and behavior, like firing at her off-stage husband with a rifle that may or may not contain a blank cartridge. Of the other women, some are longtime companions, some are strangers with shared beliefs. The most unsettling character is Julia (Jennifer Levison), confined to a wheelchair having suffered spinal damage -- and lingering delusions -- after a hunting accident. 

The first and third acts, each roughly a half-hour, take place on Rochelle Barker's cozily realistic set, and show the women first coming together, and later holding their meeting and clowning around. For the middle sequence, director Wier Harman largely succeeds with the striking logistic feat of having four scenes happening simultaneously, with some women leaving one scene to appear in another. You can even overhear scenes from different rooms, like the events of an actual party.

The America Play

01/08/2001 - 02/13/2001

Once upon a time there was a theme park called the Great Hole of History. It was a popular spot for honeymooners who, in search of "post-nuptial excitement," would visit this hole and watch the daily historical parades. One of these visitors was a man who has now come to call himself The Foundling Father. He was a digger by trade--a grave digger--and he was struck by the size of the Hole and the pageantry of the place. He returns home with his wife, Lucy, a woman who keeps secrets for the dead, and together they start a mourning business. Unfortunately, our hero can't get the Great Hole pageantry out of his head; the echoes of history speak to him and call him to greatness. At rise we meet this Foundling Father. He has left his wife and child and gone out west to dig a huge replica of the Great Hole of History. 

In the hole sits our hero. He is dressed like Abraham Lincoln, complete with beard, wart, frock coat and stove pipe hat. He tells us the story of his own life (in the third person) and tells us that he has become a very successful Abraham Lincoln impersonator! He's so successful that people actually pay a penny to re-enact Lincoln's assassination, using our impostor-hero and a phony gun. Eventually the Father dies and the second act sees his wife Lucy and thrity-five-year-old son, Brazil, a professional weeper, visit the hole to dig for his Father's remains. Listening to the past through her deaf-horn, Lucy hears echoes of gunshots and lurid stage-shows. When they dig up the Foundling Father's body (he's alive) they decide they have to lay him to rest for good. In the play's last image, his son is trying to climb a ladder out of the Hole of History while the 


11/06/2000 - 12/13/2000

We find McLeavey (Daniel Burnley), "the leading Catholic layman in a radius of 40 miles," grieving over the casket of his late wife. It's the day of the funeral, and the widower must contend with his faithful, randy Nurse Fay (Donna Wright) and his shiftless son Hal (Daniel Pettrow), neither of whom want to attend the ceremony. 

Hal's plan to be a no-show has nothing to do with mourning his mother. He and his mate Dennis (Brit Whittle), a funeral parlor-employee, have nicked a small fortune from the bank next door to the mortician. The problem is making off with the money, with Dennis and Hal already under suspicion. They seize upon stowing the cash in the coffin, but what to do with the body?

The Illusion

09/11/2000 - 10/18/2000

A dominant figure in seventeenth-century French theater, Pierre Corneille created over thirty dramatic works including The Illusion written in 1635. Corneille later characterized the play as  a strange monster, bizarre and extravagant. In The Illusion, Corneille fuses the role of the artist with that of the sorcerer and sparks a lively debate on the nature of the theater itself that remains both provocative and timely. 

Commissioned to adapt The Illusion, playwright Tony Kushner became enamored with Corneille's stark depiction of the darkness that haunts the play's many varieties of passionate love. Kushner's treatment of Corneille's text highlights the risks that accompany affairs of the heart. It asks us, as Alcandre asks Pridamant, to consider what is real in this world and not seeming?