Cry If You Want To: Little Green Pig’s Knock-out CELEBRATION at Shadowbox

Photo: Alex Maness.

Thaddaeus Edwards as Gbatokai, in LGP’s CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

When the lights came up in the Shadowbox, and the cast took its bow at the close of Celebration on February 7, the actors were met with enthusiastic applause. But after they filed off stage, no one moved for several minutes. The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern had nailed us to our seats with this excoriating production. Adapted for English-speaking theatre by David Eldridge from the 1998 Festen, an early Danish Dogme film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, Celebration is directed here by Kevin Ewert. With a combination of boldness and reserve he makes us doubt what we already know about the plot—gives us the denial already infecting the family—seducing us with the party set-up, then wallops us with the truth. It’s a tough show, but an extraordinary work of theatre.

There are worse things a father can do to his children than rape them repeatedly, but not many. In this story, the father doubled the damage by inflicting himself on his young twins, a boy and a girl. Now he’s turning 60, and the family has gathered to celebrate. All but one—the damaged girl twin, long since grown, has recently killed herself. The boy twin returns to Denmark, to the hotel his parents own and where the children grew up, with a pair of speeches in his pocket. As the eldest son, it will fall to him to make the first toast to his father.

Overlaid scenes in LGP's CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

Overlaid scenes in LGP’s CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

Jaybird O’Berski leads the outstanding cast of 15. As Christian, the abused son who has lost his twin, O’Berski’s trademark intensity is put to full use, and he exhibits a masterful control, especially in contrast to his brother Michael’s (Jeffrey Detwiler) invisibly crafted wild crudity. Tamara Kissane, who is often paired with Detwiler to great effect, is a knock-out here as Mette, Michael’s energetic wife, who gives as good as she gets in the marital wars. Mette wears blood-red lipstick, an unsettling note amid the carefully designed black, white and beige world of set and costumes (Kevin Ewert and Caitlin Wells), forebodingly lit by R.S. Buck.

Dana Marks gives another powerful performance as the remaining living sister, Helene. Like Kissane, she is fearless on stage, and continues to surprise with her range. She’s brought her new boyfriend (Thaddaeus Edwards) to the party, and his presence offers an excuse for a truly shocking outburst of racist song. Edwards has little to do, but he registers polite astonishment very well, and his what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-these-people look is priceless.

I had some quarrel with the directorial choice that made the personification of the father, Helge, very low-key. As played by Dan Oliver, Helge is almost completely without affect, and no match for son Christian in intensity. I would have preferred to see a glimpse of the brimstone lake below the placid exterior. Once only do we see his cruelty uncloaked, but his threats are weak. His fortress is his bland denial. It was a valid choice to play the character this way, but not, I think, the most powerful one possible.

Denial works much better for Helge’s wife Else, the mother of his children, because finally hers is splintered. Lenore Field gives a brilliant, riveting performance. In the final scene where she is isolated, though not banished, I could not take my eyes off of her motionless portrait of a woman whose forty years of married life has just turned to ash.

In addition to a powerful script, wonderful stagecraft and great acting by the leads and all the supporting cast, this show has something really special: the presence of a child. 5th grader Marleigh Purgar-McDonald has a natural approach and poise many an older actor might envy. Her interactions with her mother (Kissane) and her grandmother (Field) could not have been better. But it is the physical fact of her, a little girl, innocent and loving, that brings the horror of Helge’s past abuse of his own children into the clearest light. I don’t know how Purgar-McDonald is able to process the content of this play, but that she does suggests there may be a great actor in the making inside her. I intend to watch her grow at every opportunity.

This play is not an entertainment, and its content may be too hurtful for some. But it is one of the best works that The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern has produced, and highly recommended. The show runs Feb. 13-15 and 20-22. For reservations go to https://dime.io/events/celebration, or call 919.452.2304.

Photo: Alex Maness.

Marleigh Purgar-McDonald’s Little Girl keep a wary eye on Jay O’Berski’s Christian, while Dana Marks’ Helene reads the damning letter from the dead. Photo: Alex Maness.

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Serious Klöwn

Photo: Reporter Poland, on www.m.onet.pl, May 25, 2012.

Playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Photo: Reporter Poland, on http://www.m.onet.pl, May 25, 2012.

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern surprises once again. After opening their season  by standing Shakespeare’s examination of power politics in Richard II on its head, LGP’s Power Season continues with two short little-known Eastern European absurdist works by Polish-born (1930) playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Derklöwnschpankeneffeckt:  two plays for klöwn continues at Manbites Dog Theater (Other Voices series) through April 6.

Mrozek defected from Communist Poland in 1963 and became a French citizen in 1978, but his earlier life-experience during the era of Stalin enabled him to deftly skewer totalitarian politics and practices while looking at the reasons people fail to defy them. Self-preservation is at the top of that list, and  these works are dated by the complete inability of the characters in both plays to ally themselves against the forces of fate or government arrayed against them. In 1961 when Out at Sea and Striptease were written, Solidarność, the Polish Solidarity movement that eventually dismantled the Soviet bureaucracy in Poland, wasn’t even a gleam in an intellectual’s eye.

Photo: Alex Maness

O’Berski, Martin and Detwiler in Out at Sea. Photo: Alex Maness

Out at Sea presents a classic moral conundrum. Three men, supposedly lost at sea, are starving to death. Someone must be eaten. But who? Will it be the struggling Thin (Jay O’Berski)? Will it be bossman Fat (Carl Martin)? Or maybe his sycophant,  Medium (Jeffrey Detwiler)? Or will something occur to save them? The three men, very crafty actors all, rock and stumble in their tossing boat to a set of interwoven rhythms laid down by director Michael O’Foghludha. A sometime drummer, O’Foghludha spends his days deeply concerned with fairness and justice and the power of the state, as an elected Superior Court judge. His acute insight into the material, his propensity for rhythmic structuring, and the superb physical skills of the actors combine to make theater that is as much dance as play. O’Berski and Detwiler have an energy flow between them that makes me think of lit dynamite being tossed back and forth; with Martin in the mix, the sense of danger only increases. These three move so seamlessly together to convey all the nuances of power negotiations that the words, as funny as they are, become secondary. Nicola Bullock choreographed.

Photo: Alex Maness

O’Berski and Detwiler teasing before the strip. Photo: Alex Maness

But to see just Detwiler and O’Berski together in Striptease is fabulous. These two go way back together, and have together made some of the most memorable stage images in the Triangle since 1993. In Chelsea Kurtzman’s excellent costumes and Chad Evans’ clever set, they make another here. Striptease is a more focused play, and they tear into it with all the force their mutual trust and anarchic tendencies make possible. Their comic timing is, by this time, natural to them, and director O’Foghludha takes full advantage it as he explores Mrozek’s exploration of the meaning of freedom–a quest never out of date.

The sheer amount of brain power at work in this production is awesome–the director and actors are very well served by the sharp work by all the designers. Sound  designer Quaran Karriem and lighting designer R.S. Buck made the atmosphere. Alex Maness contributed photography and video; he, Kurtzman, Stephanie Waaser and the ubiquitous Jenn Evans created the large special effects in the second play. 

If you care at all about the relationship between individual and government, or perhaps you feel the hand of government reaches too far and takes too much, you’ll want to see these plays. If you just want to laugh, it is OK to go for that alone.

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