'Love and Anger' pits law vs. justice

January 28, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Canadian playwright George F. Walker's gritty urban comedies exult in contrasts. Even the titles seem like contradictions -- "Escape from Happiness," an extremely dark domestic comedy produced at Center Stage last season, or "Love and Anger," currently receiving a hilarious, knock-down, drag-out production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre.

In "Love and Anger," a middle-age lawyer named Peter Maxwell is furious with the legal system and at the same time passionately in love with justice. Maxwell discovered the discrepancy between the law and justice after suffering a stroke, which may have left him wiser, or mentally unbalanced, depending on your point of view.

When the play begins, Maxwell has deserted his fancy law firm in favor of a tawdry office on the wrong side of town, where he represents the downtrodden according to an unconventional code of legal ethics. In this case, that code condones kidnapping the publisher of a right-wing newspaper and forcing him to stand trial in a kangaroo court, which is presided over by Maxwell's secretary's schizophrenic sister.

Like "Escape from Happiness" and the other plays in Walker's series set in Toronto's East End, "Love and Anger" is highly theatrical; it uses almost as much stage combat as Shakespeare at his bloodiest. Fight choreographer Barry Price stages the script's involved scenes with great skill. Combined with the images created by director Karen Friedland and her wondrously wacky cast, the production makes a convincing case for a system of justice in which the law is corrupt and those who take it into their own hands are just.

In Friedland's production, this notion is epitomized not so much by Maxwell, whose portrayal by Rodney S. Bonds seems a little too reined in, but by Darlene Deardorff, whose no-holds-barred depiction of a schizophrenic is at once cuddly and confrontational.

Wearing a fake leopard coat, combat boots and garish makeup that accentuates her paranoid facial expressions, Deardorff is so successful in this linchpin role that she makes one of her character's key revelations extraneous. She doesn't need to tell us she thinks the newspaper publisher is crazier than she is; she has demonstrated that by convincing him she's sane.

The similarity between these two characters is reinforced by Roger Buchanan's portrayal of the power-hungry, immoral newspaper mogul. Yet, Buchanan conveys enough realism to lend a scary undercurrent to the comical sight of the publisher bound and gagged while dressed in red pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

The rest of the actors -- Connie Winston as Maxwell's earnest client, Marge Goering as his mother hen of a secretary, and Stephen Oldham as his preppy former law partner -- handle their less-flamboyant roles with aplomb.

"Love and Anger" gets a bit didactic in the final stretches, but even so the overall effect is as cathartic as undiluted wish fulfillment. At its core, this socio-political comedy is as elementary as a child's desire to get mad AND get even. Maybe that's why it seems fitting that Fell's Point Corner's production is wound as tight as a kid's temper tantrum.

"Love and Anger"

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Through Feb. 20

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 276-7837

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