Saturday, August 21, 2010

Caldwell Theatre: The Comfort of Darkness (5 reviews)

Passionate love affair between Dr. Anton Mesmer and the beautiful blind pianist Maria-Theresa von ParadisThe Caldwell Theatre company opened its production of Joel Gross' The Comfort of Darkness on August 13, 2010.
Inspired by the passionate love affair between Dr. Anton Mesmer and the beautiful blind pianist Maria-Theresa von Paradis, THE COMFORT OF DARKNESS is a romantic drama about the pioneer of hypnosis, and a forerunner of Freudian psychology. Dr. Mesmer is handsome and charismatic, and the play is sexy, mind-bending, and "Mesmerizing!"
Clive Cholerton directed a cast that featured Stevie Ray Dallimore, Jessalyn Maguire, Jane Cortney, and Kenneth Kay.

Mary Damiano reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
The Caldwell’s world premiere of The Comfort of Darkness is handsome indeed, with Alberto Arroyo’s sumptuous costumes and Tim Bennett’s elegant set.  It’s a shame the play does not live up to the production.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald: might legitimately take issue with calling the playwright's execution of his genre "inspired.'' For the new play, ``turgid'' is more apt.
Under Clive Cholerton's direction, the cast labors mightily in this dramatic lost cause.
The handsome Dallimore pretends his dialogue isn't cheesy (though it is), bringing a swashbuckling virility to his delivery and movements; whether an actor should take that approach in a play not about pirates is another issue.
Kenneth Kay brings a bemused air to the role of Dr. Otto von Stoerk, Mesmer's influential and skeptical friend. Jane Cortney is appealing in the confusing role of Francisca Oesterlin, Mesmer's former patient, current assistant and possible future stepdaughter-in-law. Maguire, unfortunately, comes off more like an 18th century Valley Girl with a crush than as a complex, vulnerable artist. On the plus side, she looks lovely in Alberto Arroyo's lavish costumes.
John Lariviere reviewed for;
This production of The Comfort of Darkness has beautifully detailed period costuming by Alberto Arroyo, and a drawing room designed by Tim Bennett that frames the action of the play with elegance. The absence of any accent work common in period pieces such as this deters the audience from total emersion in the feel of the period.
Huh. And here I was taught that only rank amateurs use accents when everyone would be speaking the same dialect.  Since everyone is from Vienna, it would make utterly no sense for the characters to speak with a Viennese dialect.  We are supposed to hear them as they hear each other, and they are not hearing a dialect.  10 demerits for Mr. Lariviere, who apparently is unversed in contemporary professional standards of acting.
The first act is drowsy, and the play as a whole is too long. There are conspicuously long moments of silence meant to be fraught with passion or intensity that are weakened by the lack of pacing that surround them. It seems odd that none of these moments are enhanced musically with suitable pieces. Not only was the real Maria Theresa a singer, pianist and composer, but Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass armonica. Obviously, a clearer bond between the two characters might have been established by using this musical connection.
Jane Cortney is a bit stiff as Franzl. Though her second-act scene with Maguire as Paradis, when she reveals her true nature, is very well written, she does not go far enough with it emotionally.
Kenneth Kay (Dr. Otto von Stoerk) establishes an easy rapport with Stevie Ray Dallimore, who is dashing as Dr. Anton Mesmer. Though obviously talented, Dallimore is missing that spark that should make Mesmer dynamic and compelling. Jessalyn Maguire is lovely as Maria-Theresa. She touches on the innocence, immaturity and bottled-up passion of the character. Her acting in a scene where she turns the table on Mesmer by passive-aggressively taking control, has great subtext.
Roger Martin reviewed for
This summer show at Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre is a world premiere. It's got a lovingly elegant set, wonderful costumes, top lights and sound, good direction by Clive Cholerton and features some fine performances, but still it seems just to float along, neither particularly exciting nor particularly boring.
Ken Kay plays Dr. Otto von Stoerk with constant flair. He's great fun to watch. Just a tad less successful is New York actor Stevie Ray Dallimore as Dr. Anton Mesmer. He has to deal at times with melodramatic and turgid writing. Neither Jessalyn Maguire as Maria -Theresa von Paradis, nor Jane Cortney as Franzi Oesterlin really stand out, although Jessalyn Maguire has mastered the art of wearing and moving in 18th century dress.

The gorgeously well-detailed costumes by Alberto Arroyo, Tim Bennett's set and John Hall's lighting are, as usual, of the highest standard.
Bill Hirschman covered it for the South Florida Theater Review:
...there is little convincing, compelling or sensual in this well-intentioned production about 18th century physician Franz Anton Mesmer’s tragically temporary cure of – and concurrent love affair with – the blind harpsichordist, Maria-Theresa von Paradis.
The toughest challenge for director Clive Cholerton and the cast is to depict the improbable scenario with a straight face.
Alberto Arroyo’s costumes are lush and lovely, John D. Hall’s lighting conveys many moods and times of day, and Tim Bennett once again provides a gorgeous period drawing room.
...the victim here is Stevie Ray Dallimore as Mesmer. He brings passion, charisma and energy to the first two- thirds of the play, providing evidence that Gross’ verbiage and vision may not be a mistake. But eventually, even he flags. You can’t dance a pas de deux by yourself all night.
The Comfort of Darkness plays at the Caldwell Theatre through September 5, 2010.

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