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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Country Girl

Also see Susan's review of The Heir Apparent

Clifford Odets' 1950 play The Country Girl examines the lives of a once-promising actor derailed by alcoholism, a hotshot director determined to give the actor a chance to start over, and the actor's supportive but emotionally drained wife. American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, tries hard, but Steven Scott Mazzola's direction too often is inert and the lead performances aren't powerful enough to bring the characters to life.

The physical production takes "bare bones" to a new level: Patrick Lord's scenic design consists of a few pieces of furniture which, with minor adjustments, represent in turn a Broadway stage during rehearsals, a furnished room, and two different dressing rooms. Dennis Kitmore's costume design is serviceable; the flashiest dress, a costume for the play-within-the-play, sparkles but doesn't fit the wearer's description of it. (She's an ingénue, worried that her mother in the audience will be scandalized to see her daughter wearing a costume with a low-cut neckline. The dress doesn't have a low neckline.)

Perhaps the central problem is that Brian Crane, playing the self-destructive actor Frank Elgin, never depicts, or even hints at, the darkness in the character. He's fine showing the surface charm that gets Frank through the day—the way the character papers over his resentments and slyly blames his shortcomings on other people—but Frank must have a volcano of anger and disgust about to burst through his careful, easy-going façade if the character is to work. Crane never reveals those depths.

Similarly, Vanessa Bradchulis gives a forthright, relatively uncomplicated performance as Frank's steadfast "country girl" wife Georgie. She's spent years trying to keep Frank from destroying his career and their lives together, but the actress doesn't bring out any sense of why she does it. Does she feel frustrated love, anger she has to hide, or simple exhaustion? It's hard to tell.

Kevin O'Reilly plays Bernie Dodd, the director who believes in Frank and distrusts Georgie, at a constant pitch of agitation. He remembers Frank's earlier brilliance and believes, against all evidence (except Frank's tall tales), that Georgie is at fault for her husband's decline.

American Century Theater
The Country Girl
September 9th - October 8th
By Clifford Odets
Bernie Dodd, a director: Kevin O'Reilly
Larry, a stage manager: Arturo Tolentino
Phil Cook, a producer: Steve Lebens
Paul Unger, a playwright: Christopher C. Holbert
Nancy Stoddard: Kelsey Acers
Frank Elgin: Brian Crane
Georgie Elgin: Vanessa Bradchulis
Directed by Steven Scott Mazzola
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org


-- Susan Berlin


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



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