Theater Notes: Two plays that were well worth the journey
I highly recommend theater that confronts and challenges its audiences. That clearly describes both of the plays in this review. First, we have August Wilson’s superb play at the Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers. Artistic Director Bill Taylor is committed to bringing to Southwest Florida all the works in this brilliant playwright’s decade-long cycle. And in addition, he brings to us talented Community Theater actors.
“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” which ran through March 17 – no one slept at this one. And the standing ovation was deservedly loud and long. The plot is complicated. It takes place in a boarding house where people stay, sometimes only a week at a time. Seth (Nunez Philor) with his wife, Bertha (Tijuanna Clemons) run their house with a hard hand. But still sex in its many varieties runs deep within the walls of the old run down building. There is one white man in the story, and his power just magnifies issues we are confronting to this day.
The play is set in Pittsburgh, one of the cities of the Great Migration where former slaves and their offspring came to make new lives. Wilson gives us a rampant range of personalities. One interesting thing is that five of the actors have never been in a play before. They were so good you’d be hard pressed to identify them. The evening was totally gripping.
A perfect contrast to the people in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is playing at the Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, one of my favorite theaters in the whole Southwest Florida area. The founder and artistic director is Kristen Coury, and it is Coury’s gift to bring us plays that demand something from the audience. Sarah Ruhl is the playwright of “In The Next Room.” It won for her in 2010 a Pulitzer Prize Runner-up Award.
The play takes place at the end of the 19th Century as changes in our country are exploding. The characters in this play are living privileged lives. Their houses are almost mansions and their relationships are moving beyond the conventional.
The play opens on a mother in an elaborate Victorian costume holding a baby that is crying. She is Catherine Givings (Hanley Smith) married to Dr. Givings (William Conell), who is clearly more interested in scientific experiments than he is in being a husband or a father. We hear that the mother’s milk isn’t working. He simply says, “We’ll hire a wet nurse.” And walks off to his laboratory.
Soon, we meet another couple. Mr. Daldry (Christopher Russo) and his wife Sabrina (Alex Trow), who appears to be scatterbrained, loud, noisy, and a mess. They are here for Ms. Daldry to have an appointment with the doctor. They go through a door leading to the second floor. And then, with a loud bang, the set’s giant doors open to reveal a hospital surgeon’s bed. In a few minutes the doctor makes a diagnosis. “She is suffering from hysteria. I have a system for treating it. Ms. Daldry must come back every day for the first week. I am confident I can cure her.”
And there we meet the clever full title of the play: “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play.” Mr. Daldry is glad to get her off his hands, and he reveals who he is as soon as he gets back downstairs and see Ms. Givings. As the play develops we see a pattern of two kinds of marriages. Dr. Givings only interested in his science while Mr. Daldry is out collecting a lot of affairs. The play has hilarious dialogues and a great deal of physical humor, as you might imagine.
There is still a third kind of love and sex relationship, but you would have to have see for yourself. Again, my hat’s off to the Gulfshore Playhouse and Coury, who hired seven Equity Actors to play the parts and has Costume Director Whitney Locher, who has costumed plays from New York to London and national tours across the country.
It’s as good as Broadway, right where we live. The play closed on March 10, but let’s say it’s a boost to have you come see their next production, “Holmes and Watson,” which runs March 23 to April 20. I predict another smash hit. That’s the way they do them at the Gulfshore Playhouse. Follow me as I go to what’s next worth seeing in our exciting theater paradise.