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.

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.

Power Play: RICHIE Goes a-Roving as Little Green Pig remixes Richard II

Queen Richie, Euro-trash party girl.

You never know what you will get, with the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. But you do know it will not be average, mediocre, or even normal. There is no middle ground with these folks, who go flat out for broke with every production. It’ll be heaven, or it will be really bad. If you know the company’s work, you tend not to care when something comes out stinky—it is just the price of the work that works.

Dana Marks as Richie, and Jane Holding as her aunt, Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke, as twilight falls on LGP’s roving RICHIE.

It is working this time.

LGP’s current production shakes loose from nearly all conventions. It’s Shakespeare—modified, adulterated, transgendered and ripped out of the frame—but still, recognizably Shakespeare. LGP’s artistic director Jay O’Berski, along with fellow travelers such as Tom Marriott and Jeffrey Detwiler, both of whom are involved here, have long demonstrated great sensitivity to the plays of Shakespeare, and huge skills at upending expectations of them while guarding their core of meaning and language. With RICHIE they’ve gone where no man has gone before.

Richard II is a dark play, difficult and mean. With an all-female cast and a contemporary conceit, Richie is just as dark, hard and mean.

Wait, an all-female cast? Oh yes, and that changes a lot of things. When all those fathers and sons and uncles and nephews and boy cousins become mothers and daughters and aunts and nieces and girls cousins, you have got some different chemistry to contend with. The end result of the power plays remains the same, but you get there by a different route. Not content with merely rewriting Shakespeare and giving all the power to the women, and certainly not content with merely “breaking the fourth wall” of the theater, LGP has ditched the theater all together, and gone a-roving, marshalled by director Jay O’Berski in one of his more brilliant endeavors.

Dana Marks leads the cast as Richie, high-living, bling-dripping, Euro-trash queen of her entourage. Her huge performance tells us all we need to know about charismatic personal power. Like her entourage (the present day substitute for the royal Court), we unquestioningly follow her from pub to club: from the fashionable haunts and seedy purlieux of Riggsbee Avenue, past the gloomy facade of shuttered, hulking Liberty warehouse, up and down the slick dales of DurhamCentral Park—to Richard’s bitter end, known and expected, but nonetheless shocking when it comes to Richie. The final scene imprints your mind, an unforgettable projection in the dark, outside the guardhouse.

Marks’ performance is magnificent. Seeing her stride through street and crowd in her black lace doublet (very Prada—see September Vogue—but probably by costumer Kala Wolfe, or one of the four other contributing local fashion designers), I realized I’d never seen Marks on a big stage. She could command the DPAC! and her vocal skills are such that she could be heard in the balcony. As it was, she made herself heard over pub roar, traffic growl, and Gram Parsons covers at Motorco, with her most delicate soliloquy occurring outside Geer Street Garden, with people coming and going through her scene.

Jane Holding as Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke

Not all the cast has equally strong vocal capabilities, but certainly the two that need it most, do. The marvelous Jane Holding plays Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke to a T. I wanted to put her on re-wind, just to listen to her speeches again. She’s Richie’s aged aunt, and in their first scene together we begin to sense just how the feminization of the play torques it. Mary-Gaunt is also the mother of Hayley (not Henry), who will by wiles wrest the royal star from her cousin. Tamara Kissane

Tamara Kissane as the cold, charming usurper, Haley Bolingbroke.

(so good to see her in action with such a dynamic role) sizzles like dry ice, and you can be sure butter would not melt in her mouth. You can actually hear her throughout, but you wouldn’t have to: Her physical presence and styled behaviors, so cool and clean, mark her as the new star each time we see her in Richie’s fevered presence.

I have wasted time, and now time doth waste me.

Mention cannot be made of every cast member, even though they all have their special moments. Notable, however, are Kana Hatakeyama and Alyssa Crash Wong as “Momo” Northumberland and her daughter, “Hotstuff.” You know Northumberland—the Duke, with his sons dukes after him for generations, who keeps a finger to the winds of change, always ensuring a fair breeze blows on him. He’s the very model of a modern party-switcher, and in any alliance he makes between power and loyalty, he will always retain power and ditch the loyalty. Momo and Hotstuff perform that baronial function well. One wishes only that we could go on for the next few plays and see Hotstuff  (Henry Hotspur Percival) mature into her coming set-to with Hayley’s (Henry) line.

Thinking back on the numerous fascinating productions of Shakespeare by The Somnambulist Project/Shakespeare & Originals/Little Green Pig, I’m awed to realize once again that we live in a place (…this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this DURHAM…) where Shakespeare lives on, thanks in great part to the aforenamed purveyors of the word. I’m personally addicted to the plays of Shakespeare, and will go at any opportunity. Whether or not you are so addicted, do not miss this up-to-the-minute remake of one of the great, tough, ones. RICHIE points its flashlights in the dark, like swords, stabbing at the corruption, cruelty, and conniving that remain always in fashion, whomever may be leading the entourage.

Let us talk of graves. In the skateboard pit in Durham Central Park.

RICHIE continues on the streets of Durham Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30, through Sept. 22. For information, http://www.littlegreenpig.com. Email tickets@littlegreenpig, or call 919-452-2304. Please be assured that even in the gloaming, the show looks better than my cell phone pictures!

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