Two of the season's most memorable productions were the work of Israel Hicks. The Madwoman, an update of Giraudoux's Madwoman of Chaillot, focuses on the grandly near-destitute Countess Aurelia, who saves New York from greedy contractors. Hicks's production was brilliantly cast: Kathleen M. Brady was an inspiring Aurelia, and Rachel Duvall a gentle joy as the waitress, Irma. But there was also strength, joy and vitality throughout the ensemble, with exciting performances filling every niche and corner of the stage. When actors work with this much exuberance, you know there's inspiration coming from the director. Hicks assembled another extraordinary cast to give August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean -- a work of oceanic power and depth -- its full due.
Bug was a study of psychosis -- an involving thriller without a lot of psychological complexity. The protagonist, Peter, moved in with a drug- and booze-addled woman and infected her with his phobia about bugs. Pretty soon the cheap motel room was filled with bug repellants and he was mutilating himself, even tearing out one of his own teeth, in the belief that his body was infested. It takes a lot of generosity and guts for an actor to give himself body, soul and spirit to a role -- especially one this taxing -- but that's exactly what Reid did. He was terrifying and understated at the same time, and you could feel him searching desperately for a footing through the descending darkness of his madness.
What is there to say about Charles Weldon, other than that he's brilliant? In Gem of the Ocean, he played Solly Two-Kings, a man of great depth and courage, an escaped slave who risked his life and his freedom working on the underground railroad. Two-Kings could transmute dog shit into something pure and valuable, and while he was unable to rest or to set down the staff that represented his struggle while injustice existed, he did not want to shed blood. Weldon knows how to play the complex music of an August Wilson script. He explored every facet of this heroic, almost-biblical character, and made Two-Kings as human and affable as he was strong.
Though not a perfect play, George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House is a brilliant and thought-provoking one. The study of English upper-class culture in decline revealed itself as sexy as well as funny under the guiding hand of Ed Baierlein. The main characters -- Captain Shotover, a retired seafarer, and Ellie Dunn, the smart and spunky young woman who realizes she loves him -- were beautifully played, and there was strong work from the rest of the cast, which included a pair of terrifying sisters and some rather weak-kneed men. It's a talky play, but everyone spoke their lines with enough confidence and wit to make this an enjoyable rendition of a fascinating play.
It doesn't matter how much you praise Jamie Horton, you're never being hyperbolic. He's a deeply talented actor, at home in classics and contemporary work, comedy and tragedy -- well, perhaps with a slight tilt toward comedy. In A Flea in Her Ear, Horton was in his element, playing two very different characters: the humorless, upper-class Victor and his physical double, the alcoholic hotel porter Poche. Horton didn't need gimmicks to help us differentiate between the two characters; he gave each of them slightly different characteristics but an entirely different soul. And, naturally, he handled the split-second timing demanded by farce with absolute aplomb.
Mark Rubald is always a pleasure to watch, and he gave perhaps the most delightful performance of his career as the Sewer Man who helped Countess Aurelia save New York in The Madwoman. A true gentleman, though possessed of a jaunty workingman's swagger, this Sewer Man knew all the secrets of the city from his study of its garbage. Rubald can be one of the most playful actors around, and the pleasure he took in the role was infectious.


Sean Tarrant Twelfth Night

Somehow the Colorado Shakespeare Festival managed to transform this warmhearted, poetic comedy into a drearily uninspiring evening. The production had one saving grace: Sean Tarrant's Malvolio. Malvolio is a vain, mean-spirited buffoon who's convinced by a trick letter that the mistress of the household he serves loves him. Tarrant took us through every twist and turn of the character's thinking with inspiring clarity and precision. His reading of the letter was hilarious, but he also made us pity this Malvolio for the humiliation he suffered toward the play's end. Tall and thin, Tarrant seemed a bit too elegant for the role until he revealed a lithe, uninhibited zaniness worthy of John Cleese.
Barely out of her teens, a former gangbanger and the product of a violent home, Fatima is in prison for poisoning several customers in the fast-food joint where she worked. She claims to be able to see the future, and she exerts a profound influence on everyone who comes in contact with her -- whether that influence is beneficial or malign is open to interpretation. Full of dark fury, Jackie Billotte played this role as if her own life depended on it. She was brash and insistent, arrogant and manipulative, sometimes full of tenderness, sometimes bawling like a lost child. A mind-bending performance.
Kim Staunton was silent for long stretches of the play as she cooked, cleaned and did the laundry for the imperious, semi-mythical central character, Aunt Ester. But her silence was more eloquent than most other people's impassioned speech. You could see what Staunton's character, Mary, thought and felt in her body, the curve of her spine, the way she used her hands, her sidelong glances at the others. She took Aunt Ester's criticisms meekly, but when she decided -- in a ringing speech -- to reclaim her soul, it was clear no one on earth could have stopped her. Among a talented ensemble, this performance gleamed.
Kristina Denise Pitt comes across as a smart, self-contained little cookie -- not at all conceited, but quite aware of her own attractiveness. Her voice is clear and pleasant. She holds herself well. "Spunky" is the word she brings to mind. In short, she's the perfect choice for one of those witty, confident Shavian heroines -- which is why she was cast in Heartbreak House. Pitt didn't disappoint, whether her Ellie was worrying about her good-hearted father, realizing she loved the retired Captain Shotover or holding her own in the cat-and-mouse games that the two older women in the play loved. This was a bright, strong, appealing performance.

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