Talented cast propels 'Lydie'

March 17, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

At the beginning of "Lydie Breeze," the daughter of the woman named in the title appears on stage wearing an eye patch. Boys playing with firecrackers have left her temporarily blinded.

But in a metaphorical sense, young Lydie Hickman is one of many characters who are temporarily blinded -- or more accurately, see only what they want to see -- in this 1982 John Guare script, receiving an excellent production at AXIS Theatre under Gina S. Braden's direction.

Although the late 19th-century setting, tone and Ibsen-esque revelations make "Lydie Breeze" seem far removed from Guare's more recent, sophisticated New York drama, "Six Degrees of Separation," in another sense the two plays have a lot in common. Guare is an extremely clever craftsman, and both plays are filled with convoluted plot twists -- most of which take the characters as much by surprise as they do the audience. They allow us to watch the characters change, and the talented AXIS cast makes those changes feel not only natural, but fresh.

Part of a cycle of plays Guare set on the island of Nantucket, "Lydie Breeze" takes place after the dissolution of an idealistic commune, which was founded by three men -- Joshua Hickman, Dan Grady and Amos Mason, friends who fought together in the Civil War. The commune broke up when a drunken Joshua murdered Dan, 20 years before this play begins. Amos, who became a U.S. senator, got Joshua released from prison, but after Joshua returned home, his wife, Lydie Breeze, hanged herself.

Lydie's younger daughter and namesake, played with a challenging combination of intelligence and naivete by Amy Brennan, is obsessed with her mother's suicide, whose cause is the play's chief mystery.

The mystery thickens when two unexpected visitors arrive on the island. The first is Lydie Hickman's older sister, Gussie, played by Jacqueline Collins with a woman-of-the-world aura that is the opposite of that of her sheltered sister. Gussie is convinced her mother killed herself because she was in love with the murdered Dan.

The second visitor, a mysterious figure in his own right, is portrayed by John C. Hansen as a man with a demeanor as somber as his dark suit. He turns out to be Dan's son, Jeremiah, an actor who has become famous playing the monster in a London production of "Frankenstein." Portraying a monster is a meaningful detail, as are most of Guare's details -- though false appearances is a theme that figures as prominently in this play as it does in "Six Degrees."

On the surface, for example, it might appear that Jeremiah has returned to avenge his father's death. That's certainly the suspicion held by Joshua, depicted by Marty McDonough as a cynical alcoholic. But Jeremiah has actually come back to see Lydie Breeze, whom he doesn't know is dead.

One of the other telling details is that the failed commune was called Aipotu -- utopia spelled backward. But while the events leading up to "Lydie Breeze," as well as many of the play's own revelations, seem light-years away from utopia, its ending looks forward, not backward.

AXIS' production -- which also includes fine performances by Suzannah Carlson as the Hickman family servant, Dana Whipkey as a local teen-ager and Mark F. Bernier as an eccentric inventor -- conveys that sense of a future without downplaying the darker theme of a ruined utopian community as a metaphor for a country forced to rebuild in the wake of civil war. This is complex material -- in terms of character and plot development as well as thematically -- and it is stunningly realized at AXIS.

"Lydie Breeze"

Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; through March 26

Tickets: $11 and $13

Call: (410) 243-5237

*** 1/2

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