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a Dark Comedy
by Ian Crichton Smith

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 5255

SHOWING : April 26, 2018 - May 13, 2018



Murdo is having a metaphysical crisis. He has taken to his bed, and his mother does not know what to do with him! While he malingers, he is visited by his brother, his gossipy neighbor, his girlfriend, an insurance salesman, a minister, a medical specialist, Immanuel Kant, and Death – who keeps stopping by for a chat. This quirky Scottish comedy is a meditation on life, death, love, and the meaningfulness of the things we all hold dear.

Director Kyle Crew
Stage Manager Amanda Taylor Brooks
Sound Designer Robert Drake
Striker Ellen Everitt
Assistant Stage Manager Laura Frizzell
Lighting Designer Harley Gould
Costume Designer Mary Saville
Insurance Man/Specialist Edwin Ashurst
Judith Karina Balfour
Snoopy Lisa Blankenship
Mother Natalie Karp
Death Ryan Lamotte
Priest/Brother Jon Ragan
Murdo William Webber
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Absurdist European Comedy
by playgoer
Monday, May 7, 2018
The set doesn’t scream "Scotland;" instead, it suggests the American Southwest, with broad, wide, off-white fabric strips forming the background and simple pottery shapes adorning stage left. Two long sheer curtains just stage left of center seem left over from "Il Etait Une Fois," which played at the same theatre in March. It’s only the plaid blanket on the rolling bed stage right that gives a hint that the play will be Scottish. When the dialogue starts, though, there’s no doubt, under the expert dialect coaching of Kathleen McManus. Scottish brogues trip convincingly off the tongues of all the actors.

Robert Drake’s sound design covers scene changes with music, adding other effects as needed. Harley Gould’s lighting design gets more of a workout. Projections between the upper portion of the two curtains suggest views out a window (although sequencing got muddled in the performance I attended). A blue light on the curtains is used to suggest a change of curtains on the window, which comes across as slightly addled, just like the pretend liquids and construction paper watch worn by one character. Mary Saville’s costumes are successful, with a nice variety of style and color.

Acting is good across the board, although the absurdist premise and scene structure won’t be to everyone’s liking. Nor will the broad performances of Edwin Ashurst as an insurance salesman and a physician (although I found his over-the-top portrayals of two wacky professionals very entertaining). William Webber plays the lead role of Murdo with a lot of direct address to the audience, and he comes across as disturbed, but charming. Karina Balfour is a delight as his would-be girlfriend, and Lisa Blankenship makes a strong presence as a nosy neighbor. Ryan LaMotte is the fourth cast member essaying a single role, that of Death, who in the world of this play is a cheery, chatty, frequent visitor.

The actors playing multiple roles are Mr. Ashurst, Natalie Karp, and Jon Ragan. Ms. Karp shows her range as Murdo’s mother and as the German-accented Immanuel Kant, being as believable with her accents as she was recently in "Il Etait Une Fois." Mr. Ragan plays a pious minister and Murdo’s unsympathizing brother, giving each a nice spin. The scenes with these characters are often set-pieces that seem plopped into the plot to make philosophical points. It’s all very European in character.

Director Kyle Crew has given the blocking a lot of movement and has encouraged his actors to give confident performances. The front-of-house staff encourage imbibing before the performance, and I can see why: the absurdist comedy of the show requires a mindset that this show is going to be laugh-out-loud funny. If you don’t go in expecting that, enjoyment is likely to suffer as you try to figure out what the heck this pseudo-philosophical play is trying to get at. Ultimately, it’s a slightly sentimental, uplifting tale, but the journey there is a weird one and not one tailored to American tastes. But isn’t that the point of Arís, to introduce American audiences to uniquely Celtic theatre pieces? [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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