Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Visit—Post5 Theatre—NE Portland

"Hell Hath No Fury…”

This classic, European drama by Friedrich Durrenmatt is directed by Benjamin Newman and is playing at the Post5 space, 900 NE 81st Ave. at 7 pm through December 15th.  For tickets/schedule, go to or send an e-mail to Nathan Dunkin, for more information.

There was a film of this play made a number of years ago with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn.  Also the author wrote a screenplay called (I believe) The Odessa File with Jon Voight and Max. Schell, in which the author had a supporting role.  The genesis of the play occurs post-WWII in Germany, when poverty and desolation were rampant.  A savior was needed and, in this case, does appear, but with unexpected results.  The theme might be, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

The story takes place in a village called Guellen in Germany.  The presentation of their story is not straight-forward and is akin to Marat/Sade, Cabaret, Shirley Jackson’s, The Lottery, or Ray Bradbury’s, The Summer People and, therein, lies the strength of this vision.  The savior comes in the form of Claire Zachanassian (Jamie M. Rea), a former resident of the town, now a millionairess.  She is willing to save the village by donating a million to it but, on one condition, they must murder someone for her.

The “someone” in question is Alfred Ill (Nathan Dunkin), a much-respected shop-owner, and in the running for the mayor’s seat.  But, it seems he was also a former lover of this lady and spurned her for another (Brian Burger).  She had a child by him, out of wedlock, and when it was brought to trial, Alfred bribed two witnesses (Heidi Hunter and David Bellis-Squires) to swear the she was a loose woman and the child was not his.  Those witnesses have been blinded and castrated by her and now work as the Lady’s minions, as do some thugs from death-row (Leia Young and Erin Morris). 

She was banished from the town and forced into a life of prostitution, until she met and married a rich man (one of several) that made her wealthy.  But revenge is sweet, not just for the meek Alfred, but toward the whole town, who had turned their back on her when she was young.  Now their humaneness, as civilized beings, will be brought into question, as they struggle with this dilemma.  In truth, there are no winners in such a situation, as even the Lady has abandoned her compassion in favor of this misguided justice.

All the town, initially, band with Alfred.  But, it is obvious, they are all suffering and attracted by the need of material items.  The Police Inspector (Jack Wells), the Doctor (Nick Walden Poubion), the Mayor (Brian Allard), the Painter (Tyler Buswell) and even his own family are easily swayed by the promise of wealth.  Only the Priest (Brian Burger) holds some reservations, as he suggests that Alfred must flee.  And the Schoolmaster (Isabella Buckner) has some major struggles with her conscience but warns Alfred that she, too, will probably succumb to being a murderer in the end.

Even Alfred feels resigned to his fate, as the guilt of his former misdeeds has crept up on him.  The songs, such as “Money Makes the World Go Round,” and “These Boots Were Made For Walking” accompanying the actions, also lend credibility to the eventual outcome.  And the dour countenance of the Butler/Narrator (Adam Goldthwaite) and former Chief Justice of the town, hint at nefarious doings at the crossroads.

The success of this production lies mainly with the style in which it is presented by director Newman.  The inclusion of songs, the clown-like antics of some characters, the Greek chorus-like mingling with the crowds, all lend to a type of lunacy that complements the story.  Keep in mind, that tragedy and comedy are both on the same coin, just different sides of it.  And when those lines are blurred, as it is in the staging, you reach deep into the human psyche, revealing the inner-most, and often hidden, Man.

It is obvious that the cast is in complete accord with this vision, as there is nary a sour note in this ensemble in the nearly three hours onstage.  Rea is striking in both appearance and acting in her portrayal of the wronged woman.  Dunkin is equally effective as the complex anti-hero, showing us the sadness and joy of being alive.  Allard is terrific and scary as he portrays, perhaps all too realistically, the machinations of a politician.  Buckner is also good, showing us layers of an individual and, perhaps, the only one with some semblance of a conscience.  And particular attention should be paid to Goldthwaite, as the presentational ringmaster of the proceedings.  He is engaging in all his incarnations.

I hope to see more of Newman’s works in the future.  I recommend this production but it is definitely adult in subject matter.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.

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