Food for thought at the Indoor Forest Theater.
Thursday, March 30, 2000
As the illustrious Irving Berlin put it so many years ago, "I only want what''s the best thing for you and the best thing for you would be me."
That in a nutshell is the crux of James Barrie''s play, What Every Woman Knows, currently playing at Carmel''s Indoor Forest Theatre. It is a testament to the delight of a well-written and well-plotted script. Though the production is somewhat uneven, the sheer strength of Barrie''s storytelling draws us in and keeps us on tenterhooks to see what comes next.
What Every Woman Knows is the story of Maggie Wiley (Victoria Marie Blaszcak), a woman who possesses no charm, and John Shand (Brian W. Feeney), a man who has no sense of humor. And through situations that do not lack for charm or humor, it becomes apparent these two are destined for one another.
Like the rest of the Staff Players'' current season, this is a play about love--in this case, contractual love. Maggie''s father and brothers, (played by Philip Pearce, Peter Eberhardt, and Mitchell Davis), despairing that she will ever wed, arrange an agreement with an impoverished scholar, Shand, by which the Wileys will pay for his education; in return, if in five years'' time Maggie remains unmarried, he will wed her.
The play''s larger question is about the relative validity of romantic vs. selfless, detached love. Maggie certainly hedges her bets when offering Shand his wings. But perhaps it is her sensible form of affection that allows her to keep her head and maneuver as she does. She knows what is best for Shand, whether he knows it or not. In the meantime we meet beautiful rivals and worldly wise comtesses, we mix in politics, and who knows how it might all turn out. I''ll give nothing away--you''ll have to see for yourself.
Though somewhat unfocused, Nick Hovick''s production certainly has merit. There was much humor, some nice performances, and effective staging in a limited space. Hovick is quite good at grasping and communicating the larger themes of the work, but he is less successful in articulating the smaller moments--the "beats" or "bits," as Stanislavsky called them. Nevertheless, as the play progressed, the story began to cohere and to intrigue.
Blaszcak''s Maggie was vulnerable, sometimes tentative, yet strong in a calm, sure way. Pearce, Eberhardt, and Davis were at turns protective and dim, but ultimately communicated a true appreciation of Maggie''s superior abilities. Feeney''s John Shand was a bit awkward--somewhat uncomfortable in his own skin--but he displayed a nice comic timing and a believable earnestness that was endearing even at Shand''s most pompous moments. Lady Sybil Tenterdon (Anna Penrose) was suitably supercilious and her accent was excellent.
Hovick''s Mr. Venable was finely drawn, a fine foil for Janice O''Brien''s delightful Comtesse de la Briere. O''Brien''s performance was the highlight of the evening. Her carriage, bearing, expressions, and phrasing were just so, and the audience fell in love with her. We couldn''t wait for the next jewel of a line to drop.
The Indoor Forest Theatre always keeps the technical aspects of its productions simple. Locations are suggested rather than recreated, costumes are suitable but not extravagant, the sets are basic. I like this. The show must rest on its own laurels: script, actors, imagination and audience. In the case of What Every Woman Knows, those laurels are earned, and the evening is both enjoyable and thought-provoking.
What Every Woman Knows closes Sunday at the Indoor Forest Theater. Call 624-1531.