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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Hell Meets Henry Halfway

Also see Susan's review of The Winter's Tale

Hell Meets Harry Halfway
Sarah Sanford & James Sugg
The Pig Iron Theatre Company of Philadelphia knows what it's getting at, but doesn't necessarily share that information with the audience. That's the general sense—fascinating, unsettling, but also baffling—that comes from watching the company's production of Hell Meets Henry Halfway at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's space in Washington.

The six-member company and director Dan Rothenberg are working with a script by Adriano Shaplin, adapted from the novel "Possessed" by Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, a renowned figure in Europe but little known in the U.S. The production is determinedly surrealistic, sometimes genuinely funny, often dark, but always unique.

Matt Saunders' expressionistic scenic design gives the audience a taste of the experience to come: grim, old-fashioned office furniture; on the floor, the incongruous layout of a tennis court; in the background, a structure whose double doors open to reveal a succession of locales. Sarah Sidman's lighting design adds to the feeling of disorientation, while Miranda Hoffman's costumes range from formal suits and evening gowns to seedy tennis outfits.

In a remote castle somewhere in eastern Europe, Henry Kholavitski (Dito van Reigersberg) is secretary and caregiver to a sickly, decrepit prince (Bel Garcia). As Henry lingers in his isolation and waits for the prince to die, he is forced to deal with an icy fiancée (Sarah Sanford); a loutish tennis pro who has seen better days (Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel early in the run, James O. Dunn later); a supposed doctor with a distinct lack of personal hygiene and a suggestion of Peter Lorre in his vocal quality (Steve Cuiffo); and a character called Jon the Ballboy (James Sugg, who also created the musical score with Shaplin).

The performers form an ensemble whose members all speak the same language, even when it's unclear exactly what they're saying. They rail at God, fate and each other; accuse the others of vague betrayals and an inability to connect; and tend toward violent emotions, swerving wildly from rage, to desire, to hopelessness.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Hell Meets Henry Halfway
February 2nd – March 1st
Conceived and created by Pig Iron Theatre Company
Text by Adriano Shaplin, after Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz
Henry Kholavitski: Dito van Reigersberg
Marian Walchak: Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel/James O. Dunn
Maya Okholovska: Sarah Sanford
Dr. Peter Hincz: Steve Cuiffo
Prince: Bel Garcia
Jon the Ballboy: James Sugg
Directed by Dan Rothenberg
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


Photo: Pig Iron Theatre Company


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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