Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh what a night

"Late December back in ’63, what a lady, what a night…"

Oh, sorry, just having a little “Jersey Boys” moment. But, speaking of nights, I caught up with “Night of January 16th” at Sycamore Rouge last Friday and was glad that I did. A show that has a real danger of being a “gimmick” show ended up being a thoroughly involving drama under Shanea Taylor’s focused direction. And even though I have read dozens of detective / mystery type books and should have seen it coming, I ended up being nicely surprised by the second act reveal.

But what made me think of the old “December ‘63” song was Beth Von Kelsch’s excellent performance as “superwoman” Karen Andre. If you read Ayn Rand when you are fairly young (which I did) and then grow up to discover irony, moral relativism, and all the ways that Rand’s philosophy runs into trouble in the real world, the “John Galt” uber-mensch stuff can be almost a little embarrassing. But Von Kelsch made Andre human as well as commanding and convincing as the willing follower of the bigger-than-life industrialist we never meet, Bjorn Faulkner. My favorite moment may have been the mixture of haughtiness, annoyance and impatience when she was offered the Bible to swear on.

Also worthy of special note was David White who essentially owns the third act of the show. He pulled off some startling emotional outbursts, but really shines in the smoothly sinister ease in which he deflects the questioning of the dogged District Attorney. It was definitely worth hanging in there until the end to see Mr. White’s fine work. It was also fun to see his lovely fiancé spending time in the jury box at the performance I attended.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Tiller as the firey Defense Attorney – and have to compliment whoever outfitted him with those fancy shoes in the third act – as well as Marie Weigle as the not-so-convincingly grieving widow, Nancy Lee Faulkner. Both of their performances leaned toward a certain one-notedness but, particularly in the context of a courtroom drama, they were entirely appropriate.

As I think I’ve said before, sometimes it’s quality in the smaller roles that really push a production from good to great. Dean Knight and Elise Boyd both were given opportunities to chew the scenery in their relatively small parts and both did a fine job of it. And Jack Lambert was a stitch as Elmer Sweeney; I hope to see him in something else that will give him more of a chance to show his stuff.

The show isn’t perfect – it starts out pretty slow and some of the courtroom conventions are a little clunky. A couple of the performances were a bit stiff. The night I went, the intermission was fairly interminable, going on for almost a half-hour, but maybe I was just anxious for things to get going again.

But that's kind of beside that point. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the show is how the bold philosophy of an author writing 70 years ago can seem so startling in our “progressive” (or maybe not so much...) culture of today. Rand professed a brazen arrogance of the gifted and an intolerance for anything that hindered their progress. These days we’ve grown uneasy with anything that pushes so hard against our embrace of structure, rules, morality, and religion. On an intellectual level, I wasn’t too surprised when kb told me that audiences had found Andre “Not Guilty” every night – if anything, the show does a fine job of sowing seeds of “reasonable doubt” in a jury. But I would have expected that an older, perhaps more conservative jury along the way would have convicted Ms. Andre.

I certainly do wish I was there on closing night when they stopped the show to allow the cast to weigh in on Andre’s guilt or innocence. Though you might think this would put the gimmick of the show a little too prominently forward, the energizing aspect of the blurred 4th wall sounds like it totally made it worth it. “Night” was an excellent end to exceptional season for Sycamore Rouge. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of their stuff in a couple of months.

2 comments:

Bob said...

David-

You stated that you "grew up to discover irony, moral relativism, and all the ways that Rand’s philosophy runs into trouble in the real world". Could you explain this a bit more? Maybe an example. I enjoyed the play as well, and as one of the few Objectvists (that I know of) in the Richmond theater community, I'd be interested in the reasons for your comments.

Or if you feel it's off-topic for your blog (since it's probably more of a philosophical discussion), feel free to send me an email.

As a side note, in her intro to the play, Ms. Rand describes the theme as a test of the audience's "sense of life", and not as a moral justification for a swindler. The play was a way to "dramatize the conflict of independence versus conformity," in her words.

Also, just to clarify, you used the term "ubermensch" to describe John Galt, but Ayn Rand was diametrically opposed to Nietzsche.

-Bob Murphy

Liz said...

Thanks so much for the kind shout-out to the fiancée in the jury box! What really made me smile is that I didn't see the show until Saturday. My little sister, however, was, in fact, in the jury at your show. It happens all the time, and she very much enjoyed her vicarious recognition! I thought it was a cute story; just wanted to share!