Sunday, January 15, 2006

opening-night review of *The Dazzle*

at Actors Rep Theatre (at SFCC) through Jan. 28

Our lives are imperception. Miracles occur all the time, inches from our eyes, and we yet we refuse to see.
What if our blindness were cured? We'd never wrest our eyes and ears away from myriad sensations. We'd be enraptured, perpetually, and utterly unable to function. "Childlike wonder"? More like lifelong rapture. Very involving, very beautiful — and also, sadly, very self-involved and impractical.

Those are the attitudes Tralen Doler portrays in Richard Greenberg's *The Dazzle* (at ARt through Jan. 28) -- and Doler's projecting of such contradictions in a well-rounded performance is only one of this show's many triumphs.

Michael Weaver's well-observed production features a brilliant trio of actors, an informative set, and moments of whimsy and sadness that never condescend to listeners' intelligence. Greenberg's literate script overflows with verbal and philosophical surprises, yearning to display humanity at its best.

Humanity striving toward the ideal — how short of the mark we fall.

Two men, brothers, die after living together in a four-story mansion in Harlem for nearly 40 years. All around them, the world has changed. But inside their cluttered Victorian domicile, the only change has been the inexorable accumulation of junk. It took workmen weeks to clear out all the detritus and discover one of the bodies.

Really happened. But why? Why would two agoraphobic and compulsive collectors choose to live this way? What was in it for them? On such curiosities, Greenberg hangs a tale about idealism and defeat, living life fully and living it not at all. His much-fictionalized Collyer brothers, bind themselves in a self-devised nutshell prison and count themselves kings of infinite space. But they're choked by their own tchotchkes.

Many of us are packrats, but few of us delight in detritus the way Langley does. He's a concert pianist, the kind who's such a connoisseur of music's power that he never quite gets around to sharing his gift in public -- you know, in things like concerts.

Good things happen at ARt when Doler is on the scene. He was in *Dirty Blonde* last season and directed *The Drawer Boy*; now this, another funny/serious drama about brothers. Quirky and compulsive and inspiring in the first act, his character's tantrums reveal themselves as self-indulgent later on -- and Dolen has too much youthful vigor in those scenes for a character who's supposed to have aged visibly. But his Langley finds something exquisite in the quivering of a musical note or a tree leaf, and there's a lesson in that for all of us.

Julie Zimmer plays the heiress who sees a way to get back at her family by throwing herself at an eccentric. Her wide-armed, life-embracing spins denote a woman who'll be attracted to a man who hears syllables and responds with novels. Zimmer lights up whenever she sees Langley, but also conveys her distrust of the meddling (in her eyes) Homer. In the first act, she performs a seduction scene with no-touch dancing that's, well, quite a bit more alluring than all the brothers' jabbering (good as it is) about philosophy. A wise and sexy performance.

Mathew Ahrens (the overeager scholar in *The Golden Age,* ARt's season opener) is a revelation here — sarcastic and a little jealous in the early going (while still conveying the depth of affection he has for his addled brother Langley), then tragic later on without ever giving up on Homer's hopes for a better life. Like his brother and the woman who once loved him, he's an idealist who doesn't quite know how to make his ideals come true. Ahrens' rendition of Homer kept evoking Oscar Wilde for me: exquisitely witty and sensitive, unjustly treated by the world. (And Homer is a lawyer!)

Jamie Flanery's set and Kimberly Crawley's furnishings practically constitute a fourth onstage character: bicycle rims and bric-a-brac, the tea service teetering on mounds of magazines, crap cluttering every cranny. For the second act, they wheel in cartloads of newspapers. Flanery and Crawley ring the stage with their junk piles, as if distributing them to the poor inhabitants of the front row. (No, thanks, I gave at the office. And in my garage. And in my basement.) So many objects, strewn about, visually engaging and yet repulsive at the same time: exactly Greenberg's intent, and a good example of set design that supports the theme while still giving the actors room to maneuver.

"Tragedy," one of Greenberg's characters tells us, "is when a few of us sink to the level where most of us usually are." And it's true that tragic things happen to the quietly desperate trio in this nonetheless often very witty and funny play. Along the way, there's the loneliness of the eccentric, the regret of self-denied pleasure, the costs of choosing an unconventional life.

As full of drawing-room-comedy zingers as Greenberg's first act is, there's a scene late in the play that recalls Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit: Three characters, trapped in a hell of their own devising, each longing for one of the others and yet blocked from their desire by the third. If that sounds a little too black-beret-and-cigarettes serious for you, know that the emotional moments in *The Dazzle,* both comic and sad (and other than Langley's tantrums) tend to be understated. Through it all, the dazzle of life's miracles shine forth.

Greenberg's witticisms crackle by so fast that grins escalate to chuckles and on to outright laughter ahead of the audience's awareness. And yet the ending — full of love that's misdirected, misconstrued — brought tears to many eyes. For a couple of concluding scenes, the opening-night audience was as quiet and attentive as any in my experience.

Enraptured? That's saying too much. But few will leave Greenberg's play — or a production of it as dazzling as this one — emotionally untouched. For attempting much and achieving nearly all, ARt's *The Dazzle* will be the show of the year in Spokane's theater season.

For this review's revision, see the Jan. 19 Inlander.


At January 15, 2006 9:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard Greenberg is having a good year it seems. I can't wait to see this one.

(You couldn't resist the choked/tchotchke alliteration, could you?) :)

At January 15, 2006 3:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could not agree more, Bobo. This is a must see event. Hats off to Michael Weaver, the cast, the technical people, and anyone else who had a hand in this remarkable production.

At January 16, 2006 7:39 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Ah, wordplay ... the fatal Cleopatra for which I lost the world and was content to lose it.

At January 17, 2006 1:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it not Tralen Doler?

At January 17, 2006 2:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is what not Tralen Doler? Tralen appears in the show as Langley.

At January 17, 2006 2:05 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Thanks, and you just helped with the proofreading of Thursday's paper. (3 outta 4 ain't bad.)

At January 18, 2006 10:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

He had Tralen Dolen.

At January 19, 2006 10:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had Tralen Doler.

At January 21, 2006 12:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was OK.The second act was stronger.

At January 21, 2006 1:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think ART has the best and most consistant performances in town.

At January 24, 2006 12:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this terrific show Saturday night and I thought it was amazing. The audience was sold out and I was so happy to see ARt succeeding.

Recently there was a thread on this blog talking about how the big theatres never do anything edgy. Well, here it is, edgy, never seen in Spokane before and done really well. Bravo!

At January 27, 2006 9:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I caught the show last night and just have to say WOW!! What an outstanding production! The cast, the script, the set....all terrific! Thanks for a great night!

At January 28, 2006 11:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The SET?

At January 28, 2006 6:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw nothing wrong with the set or the costumes. I think a great job was done all around. You seem a little bitter about something or someone, but then again, I guess it is always more fun to be snarky than to allow people to revel in a great success that you wish you had. Sorry, but I wholeheartedly disagree with your comment.

At January 29, 2006 1:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thanks ART for a terrific evening of theatre.

At January 30, 2006 2:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noy liking the costumes is not snarkyust my opinion.

At January 30, 2006 11:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I think -- and I quote:
The SET?
... is pretty snarky.

At January 31, 2006 12:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No that is my opinion get a clue.

At January 31, 2006 7:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget the makeup


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