When you see a lot of theater, for the most part it’s hit or miss—but this past week it was downright thrilling: Two companies delivered flawless productions, one here in town and the other in Rhode Island. Alas, the R.I. show closes Nov. 20th but the Huntington production runs through Dec. 11th.
The Huntington’s BEDROOM FARCE is… what else can one say… pure perfection top to bottom. Director Maria Aitken’s staging for Alan Ayckbourn’s delicious comedic four-part disharmony is spot on. Speaking of spots, there’s even lighting laughter (from Matthew Richards) when one of the three bedrooms on Alexander Dodge’s set is momentarily inactive. It’s lit for a nanosecond, then hastily departs for more prolific terrain.
Ayckbourn has intentionally avoided the traditional bedroom conventions: No one is getting any sleep in these three bedchambers. What they do get are endless invasions by unwanted guests. Never has physical comedy been so sublime, especially in the hands of Nael Nacer, as the impatient husband whose only desire is to immobilize his bad back in bed and read. You know that book will go AWOL and he will have to maneuver a painful inch at a time to retrieve it. And you know that someone will arrive to ruin his repose.
It’s the great stuff of an Ayckbourn script. If you haven’t seen one of his plays, don’t miss this chance. If you have, you will delight in the magnitude of the mirth Aitken and company have uncovered in this Ayckbourn treasure.
Ocean State Theatre Company’s riveting production of John Patrick Shanley’s DOUBT (A Parable) aims for the solar plexus and it delivers: There’s a popular priest and an exacting nun and a school full of children she wants to properly educate. But there’s a suspicion she has about this priest and that’s Shanley’s brilliant play in toto. He isn’t going to tell you who’s in the right or who is wronged. You will have to decide for yourself.
I’ve seen one version of DOUBT where the sister was an out and out monster and I was convinced the young priest was her victim. I saw another version where I was certain he was a molester, all with the same script. Aimee Turner’s production for Ocean State adds an element I hadn’t seen before. This Father Flynn is an older priest and he towers over the nuns physically, tipping the scales dramatically.
Shanley supplies the given hurdles for Sister Aloysius: A hierarchy prevents her from going to the Bishop with her concerns. She must proceed through channels and Father Flynn outranks her. Turner supplies another. Donna Sorbello’s Sister Aloysius is dwarfed by Greg London’s Father Flynn. And he’s not only more powerful in physique, London makes him a powerful presence… and a spellbinding speaker. His sermons are mesmerizing. You clearly see why he’s so well liked. (Unfortunately we don’t come to the theater without our prejudices and it’s the older pedophile priests who are in the news and in the movies so London has an uphill battle to convince us that Father Flynn singled out a child solely to protect him from being bullied.)
Sorbello in a tour de force makes Sister Aloysius a formidable match for the priest, plotting to “outshine the fox in cleverness.” Sorbello’s nun speaks in a commanding low voice that demands obedience…and scares the devil out of her young charge, Sister James. Caitlin Davies as the sweet James unwittingly sets the plot in motion when she gives Sister Aloysius a reason (and ammunition) to take on the priest. Lovely Hoffman supplies the play’s surprise when, as the mother of the boy in question, she comes to the table with her own priorities. Hoffman makes the mother’s position understandable, something I’ve always had difficulty swallowing in other productions. Kudos to Ocean State for a gripping and gorgeous (an exquisite set by Erik D. Diaz) presentation of Shanley’s compelling play.