Thursday, February 12, 2009

Women's Theatre Project: Playhouse Creatures (3 Reviews)

Playhouse Creatures is playing at the Women's Theater Project through March 1. It's a tale of the first women to play roles in theatre; prior to the reign of Charles II, only men were permitted to work in theatre.

Genie Croft directs Dania Aguero, Kim Morgan Dean, Christine Blair, Linda Bernhard, and Jude Parry.

Christine Dolen is the first to review the play, for the Miami Herald.

Supplanting the lads in drag who had long played female roles, these early actresses became objects of fascination and desire, women whose lives offstage were at least as interesting as the characters they portrayed.

That's the way British playwright April De Angelis sees it in her 1993 script Playhouse Creatures, a piece now getting its southeastern premiere at Fort Lauderdale's Women's Theatre Project.

Before she addresses the performances, Dolen comments on the production values;
Jodi Dellaventura's bare-bones set gives them almost no environmental help. Instead, Ashley Rigg's class-revealing costumes -- near-rags for the aged Doll, a gorgeous gown for Nell once she joins the ranks of the alluring younger actresses -- underscore each woman's rank and fortunes.
Christine also felt that the script needs some work:
...De Angelis doesn't infuse her script with the kind of shorthand history that could make it even more resonant, particularly for audiences who haven't done an online cram session about theater in the time of Charles II. So until we have come to know each woman's issues and quirks, director Genie Croft's production feels as if it will never coalesce.
Overall, Dolen was positive, if brief, about the performances:
Parry's Doll is a weathered comic gem. Dean brings sass and bite to Mrs. Farley. Aguero revels in Mrs. Marshall's vengeance. And Bernhard makes Mrs. Betterton truly moving.
Bill Hirschman reviewed Playhouse Creatures for the Sun-Sentinel, and his review goes into a little more depth than Dolen's:
...(playwright) De Angelis, five solid actresses and director Genie Croft providing some of her best work make this a bawdy, funny romp interspersed with passages of pathos.
And he finds particular praise for veteran Linda Bernhard:
The revelation is Bernhard , a stalwart often trapped in mediocre roles in mediocre plays. She finally gets the role and direction she deserves. By turns laughable, self-pitying and tragic, Bernhard gives the performance of her career as the aging actress waiting in vain for her husband to allow her to play a truly great role.

Bernhard is even more riveting in a reverie when women were banned from the stage, but she dared to play Iago in male disguise to her husband's Othello.
He also praises the costuming:
...special kudos are due costumer Ashley Rigg's procession of smothering petticoats and laced up straight jackets masquerading as clothing.
Hirschman concludes:
Overall, it is an evening of deafening resonances.
Brandon K Thorp's review appeared in the February 10 edition of the Broward/Palm Beach New Times. And as always, Brandon puts it as only Brandon can:
Playhouse Creatures is an inquiry into the lives of some of these first English actresses. And because that sounds dull, I'm gonna get right to the endorsement: Playhouse Creatures is the best thing the Women's Theatre Project has done in years, and maybe ever.
A quick review; Christine liked some of the performances, but didn't feel the production really pulled together, Bill Hirschman enjoyed it, and Brandon REALLY liked it A LOT.
Some theatergoers will find the actresses' all-declamatory-all-the-time style of delivery entirely too over-the-top, but I disagree: The 1600s were a declamatory time. Just partaking in the diffuse air of giddiness in the leaky old theater is well worth the $25 ticket price.
Brandon did find, like Christine Dolen, that the script needs some judicious pruning;
...somewhere in the gathering darkness of the second act, something begins sapping the momentum of Playhouse Creatures, and at the end of it, my admiration for the players was mingled with relief that it was finally over.

But the relief had as much to do with the soul-draining intensity of the production as with De Angelis' editorial failures... In the end, it's hard to know if the actresses played by the actresses believe they're performing their own doom or living it — or if the artifice can be untangled from the tragedy at all.
More reviews will be added as they become available.


Theatre Row has a promotional article.

Christine Dolen's Critic's Pick.

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