`Dazzle' examines clutter of human existence

Rep Stage's production captures tragicomedy of fatally linked brothers

Review

Howard Live

November 06, 2003|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Richard Greenberg's The Dazzle, now enjoying a splendid production at Rep Stage, was inspired by a tragedy that filled the newspapers in 1947. Police broke into a decrepit mansion in upper Manhattan and found the bodies of two aged brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer. Once rich and well-placed (Langley was an admiralty lawyer, Homer had a degree in engineering), the Collyers had long ago retreated from the world.

It was a horrendous scene. Homer, blind and paralyzed, had starved to death. The house was crammed with more than 100 tons of miscellany. There were valuable items such as books, rolls of fabric, musical instruments and anatomical specimens. There were also vast quantities of junk, apparently picked up off the street, and mountains of old newspapers, pierced by a network of crawl tunnels.

Weeks later, during the long process of clearing out the house, workers found Langley under a mound of rubbish - the victim of one of the many traps the brothers had devised to foil intruders.

People wondered how two such men, seemingly with everything going for them, had come to such a sordid end. The Dazzle is Greenberg's interpretation - not a literal retelling of the Collyers' lives, but a meditation on how people use the time they are given on Earth and how they relate to those around them.

As Greenberg tells it, Homer is the lawyer. In a beautifully detailed performance by Bill Largess, he is distant, dry and pedantic, with a streak of contrariness. An obsessive manager, he sees it as his duty to watch over his younger brother, especially as the family fortune is declining.

It is a story of mutual dependence. Homer needs someone to look after; Langley needs looking after. Langley is a pianist who can't be bothered to show up at his recitals. He lives in his own world, avoiding relationships with the society around him. He is obsessed with things - their appearance, materials, shape, dimensions.

Langley lacks any sense of responsibility, but he has a charming manner and spouts torrents of kaleidoscopic speech. So elusive is he, so impossible to pin down, that he keeps his brother in a permanent state of irritation and frustration. It's a showy role, and Bruce Nelson plays it to the maximum, with manic movements, an odd, permanent half-smile and a sporadic delivery.

A young woman named Milly (in a strong performance by Cheryl Resor) makes a play for Langley. She is charmed by his artistic temperament, so different from her rich family's businesslike attitude. By marrying him she will spite her hated relatives.

The relationship between Milly and Homer is prickly - like him, she is a manager - but their interests coincide and they reach an understanding: Homer will maneuver Langley into proposing to Milly; Milly will support Langley financially.

The wedding preparations are made, but at the last minute Langley backs out. The idea of intimate human contact and the thought of leaving his beloved clutter are too threatening.

Act II, set in later years, details the inevitable outcome.

The characters are disintegrating, the house is turning into an ugly dumping ground. Though repellent, it is fascinating to watch.

Greenberg has a gift for comic dialogue and an imaginative way with language that enlivens the most serious situations.

The cast, under the sure-handed direction of Kasi Campbell, creates an intense, engrossing atmosphere that is fully supported by the work of the designers.

Richard Montgomery's magnificent set exudes the heavy period feeling of the turn of the 20th century, becoming a grotesque jumble in the second act.

Chas Marsh's original music mirrors the play's varied emotions - portentous, unsettling, chaotic.

The lighting, by Marianne Meadows, subtly underscores the drama, and Lisa Parkel Burgess' costumes suggest the period.

It all comes together to create a fine production of a fine play.

Rep Stage is presenting "The Dazzle" 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 through Nov. 23 in Theater Outback, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. (No matinee this Saturday.) Reservations: 410-772-4900.

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