A Striking Production of Harry Thaw Hates Everybody
Playwright Laural Meade has each of the main characters relate from their own perspective what happened in this crime of passion in a unique style of theatre that includes Victorian melodrama, vaudeville musical, and a style called "living newspaper." She does cover a lot of ground and sometimes it is a little bloated. There is a lot going on, including projected light shows, film clips, and historical slides. There are bright piano rags and over-the-top Victorian acting. Watching this work is perhaps more spectacular than satisfying. Sometimes it drags; some cutting of scenes would help.
The hardworking actors give their all in Harry Thaw Hates Everybody, and they are all exceptional. Rosie Hallett gives a lively performance as Evelyn Nesbit. She is an enticing mistress of ceremonies as she welcomes the audience to the musical. However, in this production she is merely a supporting character allowing the vulgar men her life to take center stage.
Keith Pinto certainly has his work cut out for him playing the sparkling, apologetic man-child Harry Thaw. He gives a bravura performance, hamming it up, especially in the last segment when it's time to tell what happened from his perspective.
Steven Hess is excellent as the impetuous and arrogant Stanford White. He also excels in the great over the top acting that was prevalent in the early years of the 20th century. Carla Pantoja gives a powerful performance as Florence Nesbit, the mother of Evelyn, especially at the start of act two when she presents a "living newspaper" to dramatize the events leading up to Evelyn's marriage to Harry Thaw.
Rounding out the cast are Will Dao as the butler Poire and Michelle Drexler as the maid Mirabelle. Both give striking presentations in their respective roles. They are delightful in a 15-minute pre-show performance, singing the period pop hits of the day like "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now."
Direction by M. Graham Smith is sharp and perceptive. Chris Black's choreography is amusingly animated. Maya Linke's set with a large square-shaped chandelier overhead gives the audience a sense of the early 20th century. Costumes by Miriam Lewis also reflect that period.
On the whole, this is a thought-provoking alteration of the Rashomon storytelling technique.
Harry Thaw Hates Everybody plays through November 23rd, 2014, at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley. For tickets call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. Coming up next is Thornton Wilder's Our Town opening on December 4 and running through January 11.