`Dazzle' opens at Rep Stage

Theater: HCC's company begins its run tomorrow of a dark comedy about eccentric brothers.

Preview

Howard Live

October 30, 2003|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Most people have treasures that only they think are special - things they will keep forever that other people may see as junk. But what if you considered everything you ever ran across as something worth keeping? What if, day by day, you went foraging for more stuff?

The Dazzle, a play written by Richard Greenberg, opens tomorrow at Rep Stage in the Theatre Outback at Howard Community College. It is loosely based on a true story in which two brothers were found dead, buried under mountains of their stuff, in New York City in the spring of 1947.

The Collyer brothers were found among 136 tons of junk in their three-story mansion in the then-fashionable neighborhood of Harlem, says Kasi Campbell, the play's director. Their collections included 25,000 books, hundreds of yards of unused silks and fabric, 14 grand and upright pianos, human medical specimens preserved in glass jars and a primitive X-ray machine.

This urban legend is so famous that the technical medical term for excessive hoarding - disposophobia - has become known as "Collyer Brothers Syndrome," Campbell says.

"Whenever anyone hears about this play, they always say they have an aunt, uncle or cousin with this disorder," Campbell says. "But the play is not about clutter and debris. It is an original meditation on `my brother's keeper.' It is a look at what the relationship between the two might have been like. It is imagined that one brother is a savant and the other is the caretaker."

Both lead actors say that although their characters are extreme, they can relate to them.

"Everyone looks at this house and says this is my house," says Bill Largess, a two-time Helen Hayes Award nominee, who portrays Homer, the caretaker of his hoarding brother, Langley. "This play may make people realize how fragile conventional `normal lives' are. It's easy for them to go wrong.

"I think this play makes people see that it's important to pay more attention to what they have.

"Maybe they will come away with a better understanding of why people who don't have it might not. People whose lives are not as pulled together," he says.

"I can also relate to Homer on a more personal level. I have been a caretaker and can sympathize with wanting to do the right thing and be happy about it contrasted with the feeling of being trapped," Largess says.

"Langley is caught up in his own world. He is obsessed with the minutiae going on with him," says Bruce Nelson, a three-time Helen Hayes Award nominee who portrays him.

"Langley treats Homer as another one of his objects. A living, breathing human treated like another object," Nelson says.

"Maybe this will make people realize they should take more care of the people in their life. Don't let your life be consumed by your things. Don't let the people in your life slip away from you," he says.

During its run in New York, The Dazzle won the Outer Critics' Circle Award for best off-Broadway play last year.

"I believe the play, although it's a dark comedy, really asks the philosophical question, How do we live our lives?" Campbell says. "Do we live in an arch or in one extended moment?"

"The play is extremely witty and amusing. It uses fun language, not everyday vernacular," she says. "On a technical aspect, it was interesting. We start with a normal 1910 mansion and slowly build up the clutter. But it had to be with things that were around in 1920. It was like a time capsule with the clock still running."

Largess and Nelson combine their professional acting careers with teaching at the college.

"I believe Howard Community College is the only two-year college in the country that has a professional theater company in residence," Largess says. "It is like having a teaching hospital for a medical school. The students get to see close up how the process is happening. They also get to be a part of the process by working backstage and sometimes performing.

"It is a wonderful training ground."

Rep Stage presents "The Dazzle" through Nov. 23. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $13 to $22, with a $2 discount for seniors; student tickets are $10. Information: 410-772-4900 or www.howardcc.edu/repstage.

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