Also see Michelle's review of Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Three narrators, played with energy and a delicious vampy malice by Hannah V. Kauffmann, Ashley Weingardt and Barbara Geary, stage-manage the show, controlling the action and prodding the audience to think critically and appreciate the ironies of history. The juxtaposition of McCarthy (William Johnson) in fine witch-hunting form with the edgy narrators who are reminiscent of the three witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth provides humor and cynicism in equal doses. The remorse and dashed hopes of the two Arnolds and Andre provide the poignancy. It all adds up to a whirlwind emotional pageant, intricately staged by director Summer Olsson.
Benedict Arnold is a conflicted character in American history, arguably the most brilliant general in the Continental Army and yet the most despised after he attempts to turn West Point over to the British at a crucial turn in the Revolutionary War. A man addicted to impulse, yet tortured by visions of a grand legacy, Arnold makes an excellent crucible for the nuances of Traitors and its discourse on betrayal. Actor Chad Christensen-Brummett does a beautiful job of showing Arnold's divided nature, his rugged physicality, and the demons that ultimately destroy him. In Simpson's play, the added twist that John Andre and Peggy Arnold love each other, and yet stand by the disintegrating Benedict Arnold, provides emotional heat. Drew Morrison plays Andre with both integrity and longing, and Stephanie Grilo captures a Mrs. Arnold replete with wit as well as beauty, an 18th century woman well ahead of her time.
The Arnold triangle is mirrored by the biblical twist of the Judas-Jesus-Mary Magdalene trio. Interestingly, the language of the biblical plot is more contemporary than the 18th century one, with Judas (in a fiercely ironical portrait by Alex Knight) speaking like an angry Beat poet. The biblical story's predictability is offset by Judas' slow realization that he had been chosen long before by Jesus (Nathan Simpson) to betray him. Mary and Judas are pamphlet-carrying activists here and they are destined to clash. Dodie Montgomery's Mary is genuinely an innocent and her devastation counteracts the ironic weight of Judas and the three narrators.
The simple set designed by Casey Mraz is a deceptively simple series of interlocking platforms with four gauzy strips of material that reflect color and movement overhead. The set streamlines the complex wordplay and action and allows them to flow.
This new play is polished. The ending ramps up and continues at a fevered pitch for perhaps too long, and some of the repetitions (such as "guilt is only painful until you are used to it") become heavy-handed in the protracted climax. The female narrators keep the audience engaged, though, and the action rolling. They lift the veil on the illusion of the stageperformance, like betrayal itself, is pure perception. Self-conscious and contentious, Traitors makes for very good theater.
Traitors, sponsored by the Tricklock Company, is onstage at Theater X in the Department of Theatre and Dance, University of New Mexico Center for the Arts in Albuquerque, through December 12, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (no performance December 9). Tickets are $15. General admission, $12 for faculty and seniors, and $10 for students. For tickets go to www.unmtickets.com or call (505)-925-5858; for more information: www.tricklock.com/.
--Lynn C. Miller