The Dazzle and Living Together
The Dazzle and Living Together
Prisms of language flicker across stage with all the surprise and delight of rainbows in Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg's luminous drama, The Dazzle. With fine acting, a remarkable set and sensitive direction, the Jungle Theater's production gives full play to The Dazzle's shifting emotional colors.
It is an odd piece, bold in its originality, erudite and deep like a Tom Stoppard play, but funnier and more accessible.
The Dazzle is based on the lives of the Collyer brothers, two New York recluses who lived in fashionable Harlem at the turn of the last century. Greenberg stuck to the known facts about the brothers but took free license to imagine the characters behind the bizarre behavior.
The play opens in 1910 and stretches through 1950. Elegant Homer and Langley Collyer live as bachelors in their parent's cluttered mansion. Homer, a retired admiralty lawyer, takes care of his musically talented but incapable brother, partly out of duty and, perhaps, because nothing else presents itself. Both are clever but unworldly, and the family money is beginning to run out. Homer encourages a relationship between the self-absorbed and compulsive Langley and Millie Ashmore, a wealthy young socialite, who has an agenda of her own. When things go wrong, the brothers close themselves off from the world, and Langley stuffs the house with objects he finds on his forays into the changing neighborhood, until movement in the house is limited to narrow tunnels through the junk.
Greenberg's introduction of attractive Milly into the brothers' world adds triangulated tension to the story and the hint of a painful secret. Charity Jones fills the role with flair. Dressed in Amelia Cheever's swish period costumes, she exudes the easy confidence of Milly's privilege; she's a young woman who is focused, quick-witted and manipulative. Milly sets her bead on romantic-seeming Langley, even as it becomes clear that eccentric Homer might be a more rewarding, if still unlikely match.
In a wonderful scene, Milly unwinds her silk gown to tempt inept Langley with her bared breasts. She invites him to touch. Phil Kilbourne as Langley approaches Milly, hands extended, eyes ecstatic with anticipation, and drops on his knees to bury his face in the silk on the floor.
Langley is a difficult and pivotal role that requires shaded acting. If it were overplayed, the part would undermine The Dazzle's oddball humor and rob it of the weirdness at its core. Under Bain Boehlke's direction, Phil Kilbourne plays Langley from deep inside the closed world of border-line autism. He's not completely dissociated from reality, but he can spend a whole day absorbed by the neck of a bud vase. His Langley is a sort of savant, poetic, occasionally astute, philosophical and authentic.
Stephen D'Ambrose shines as Homer Collyer, Langley's weary keeper. He's austere, ironic and bookish, and he yearns for a plotline to come along and sweep him into a real life. Instead, he lives in a state of irritated resignation that spills into flashing speech. When Milly first visits the house, Homer studiously ignores her. She insists upon his attention and he offers, "Can I get you something? Comic book? The Koran?" Later, as though inventing a story for himself, he announces to Langley that he will marry. "I shall be too busy copulating and so forth-to see-that you don't-reek or starve or - impale yourself on something sacred--." His delivery is spot on; though bitter, it invites laughter and sympathy for this vulnerable man.
The play is at its most fascinating when all three characters are on stage. In the second act, its energy flags a touch but revives when Milly reappears.
Bain Boehlke's stylish Victorian set in the first act is a small masterwork. It is packed with two grand pianos, a pile of old typewriters, an empty birdcage, abandoned file boxes and chairs, with lace antimacassars. The transformation of the same room for the second act elicited gasps from audience members, returning from intermission.
Barry Browning's lighting combines with Scott Edward's sound design to create a busy drawing room party in an adjoining room, subtle shifts in mood, and different times of day.
In the same wordy vein as Wilde and Stoppard, Greenberg's The Dazzle delights, and Boehlke and his artistic team negotiate the play's intricate emotional topography with irresistible wit and grace.
The Dazzle July 16 - August 28, 2004. Wednesdays - Thursdays and Sundays 7:30 p.m. Fridays - Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sunday Matinees 2:00 p.m. $20 -$30. Jungle Theater, 2951, Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis. Tickets: 612-822-7063.
I only saw the middle play of Joking Apart's production of Sir Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests, but I was impressed that Joking Apart has resisted turning the characters into English types, a common fault when American theaters turn to British comedies. From seeing Living Together, I feel confident of recommending the entire trilogy; accomplished actors allow Aykbourn's hilarious script to work its own magic, and they honor the loneliness beneath all the fun.
The Norman Conquests until July 24, 2004. Monday - Sunday 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees 4:00 p.m. $14 - $16. Joking Apart Theater, Cedar Riverside People's Center, 20th Avenue and Riverside, Minneapolis. 612-728-3839. Go to www.jokingaparttheater.com for trilogy schedules.