Acting helps to see past small flaws in `Saints'

CRITIC'S CORNER

Critic's Corner//Theater

April 27, 2006|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

As the concluding offering in its season of Irish plays, Performance Workshop Theatre has mounted an admirable production of John Millington Synge's rarely staged The Well of the Saints.

Believed to have been inspired by a medieval French play, The Well of the Saints is essentially a fable. The plot concerns a blind, destitute husband and wife whose sight is miraculously restored by an itinerant friar, bearing holy water. But when Martin and Mary Doul regain their vision, they are so put off by each other's appearance, they lose sight of the value of their relationship.

In other words, this is a play about the difference between seeing and understanding - something it takes Martin and Mary a while to figure out. "I'm thinking by the mercy of God it's few sees anything but them is blind for a space," Martin says before he recognizes his own figurative blind spots.

Martin and Mary are supposed to look haggard (Synge's stage directions describe her as "ugly"). But even dressed in rags and with dirt smeared on their faces, Marc Horwitz and Katherine Lyons are too handsome a couple to entirely pull this off. He tries to compensate with a Quasimodo-style bent posture; she adopts a scowl. Their acting, however, does the trick.

These characters are vain, small-minded people. Within minutes of their first glimpse of each other, they launch into combat, using their sticks like swords. Horwitz's Martin turns spiteful and Lyons' Mary, vindictive.

Martin, however, also has the Irish gift of gab, and the production's best scene comes when he sweet-talks a local beauty named Molly. Amy Dawson's Molly is initially disdainful of Martin, but as he plies her with compliments, his words begin to affect her, and the interplay between Horwitz and Dawson demonstrates how words can cloud vision.

The supporting cast - including Seamus Dockery as the friar and Thomas Lee Brown as a blacksmith engaged to Molly - does commendable work. Director Marlyn G. Robinson, however, has a tendency to arrange the contingent of townsfolk in too pro forma a manner - pairing them off, or assembling them in a clump, overseeing the action.

But this is a minor quibble. The chance to see this lesser-known work by the author of The Playboy of the Western World is a treat - one that charmingly demonstrates the moral of Synge's story, that sometimes, there is none so blind as they that do see.

Show times at Performance Workshop Theatre, 28 E. Ostend St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 21. Tickets are $18. Call 410-659-7830.

Artistic controversy

On April 19, Center Stage artistic director Irene Lewis was one of five participants in a New York Theatre Workshop panel discussion, spurred by that theater's decision to postpone the controversial play My Name is Rachel Corrie. The one-woman show was created from writings by a 23-year-old American who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip.

During the discussion, titled "Controversy in the Eye of the Beholder," Lewis spoke about increasing African-American programming and audiences at Center Stage, as well as about such hot-button productions as Peter Weiss' The Investigation and Motti Lerner's The Murder of Isaac.

"If artists today don't try to raise the disturbing questions, who will?" Lewis commented.

Speaking to James Nicola, Workshop artistic director, she said, "Jim, you run one of the most cutting-edge theaters in this city. I think you do some of the most cutting-edge work, and I would just say I think you should trust that passion that you described when you read Rachel Corrie - enough to do it."

Meanwhile, the Royal Court Theatre, which produced My Name is Rachel Corrie in London, is reportedly looking to bring the play to another New York theater.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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