Thursday, October 11, 2001
The theme for the Staff Players Repertory Company''s season that opens this weekend at the Indoor Forest Theater seems almost hand-picked to correspond with the confused emotions and priorities that the world is experiencing today. It''s a long-standing tradition for many theater companies to offer seasonal themes for their offerings, and "Reality Among Shadows" is the motif that ties together SPRC''s four principal productions of the season, Mary Chase''s Harvey, JM Barrie''s Dear Brutus, Jean Giradoux''s The Enchanted, and an original play, Jocasta, by Sandra Perlman.
Although the series was selected long before the events of September 11, SPRC founder/artistic director Marcia Gambrell Hovick thinks it has a particular relevance right now.
"God knows we have been passing through a dark patch of shadows ever since the eleventh," Hovick says. "Some of them external, some of them inside each person in a different way. Our certainties have been rearranged."
With Harvey, the SPRC embarks on the season''s theme of questioning societal convictions. Mary Chase''s play, about Elwood P. Dowd, the affably pixilated gentleman whose favorite drinking buddy is a six-foot invisible rabbit. The play, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1945, pits Dowd against his socialite sister and niece who want to have him institutionalized, as well as the medical establishment at the sanitarium where he is examined. As anyone who has seen the often-produced play (or the 1950 film version starring James Stewart) knows, by the end of the play, the tables have been turned. On the surface, Harvey is a simple play, not much more complex than a television situation comedy--a predicament that has doomed many productions of the play to mediocrity. Although the humor still plays with today''s audiences, it''s a show that''s difficult to contemporize to suit audiences familiar with the more aggressive/salacious eccentricities common to "Ally McBeal," et al.
But for all of Harvey''s gentle, good-natured charm, it''s a relentlessly subversive piece of theater that calls "normal" society''s values into question. During the course of the play, Chase, through her mouthpiece Dowd, gently but firmly skewers social climbers, money grubbers and the medical establishment. Coming at the end of World War II, a time of intense nationalism (other Pulitzer winners that year included WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin and Joe Rosenthal, who took the photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima), Harvey was almost revolutionary in its call for a kinder, gentler, more accepting mode of human interaction.
As Hovick points out, it''s the simplest aspect of the play that makes it the most profound.
"The hardest thing everyone has to do is to accept the kind of openness that Elwood lives and breathes. It really doesn''t matter about the rabbit."
While the production of Harvey is somewhat of a departure for SPRC, which is more known for its productions of European classics, the balance of the season returns to more familiar turf.
On Jan. 10, SPRC opens JM Barrie''s Dear Brutus. While Peter Pan remains Barrie''s best-known work, many critics argue that Brutus is his best. This three-act play opens with a dinner party in which the audience is introduced to a cast of bickering, unhappy characters attending a dinner party. In the second act, the characters find themselves in an enchanted forest where all their fantasies can be fulfilled. The third act returns to the dinner party, where the characters must face themselves and each other. It''s a scene in which the strength of each person''s dream is called into question. The characters return to "normal" reality after facing the shadows of their inner selves, and the only question is how well each of them brings the knowledge they gleaned back into their daily life.
The third offering of the season, opening Feb. 21, is Jean Giradoux''s poetic The Enchanted, in which the young schoolteacher of a small village encounters and falls in love with a ghost during an outing in the forest. As the teacher becomes increasing enamored with her otherworldly suitor and is tempted to join him in his life beyond the pale, the village attempts to woo her back to the physical world and all the small joys that make living a wondrous experience.
The final offering of the season is Jocasta, opening on April 25, about the wife of Oedipus, the tragic Greek king, both before she meets him and after he discovers the great crime for which the gods are punishing him and his whole country.
As the character in each of these plays face their own shadows, and develop new ways of viewing the world, Hovick says, they find remarkably similar, humanizing experiences.
"The certainty in each of the plays we''re doing is that loving is the strength of the world. In each play, people not only encounter their own self-deception but encounter a world where you can defend yourself with loving, but not with hate, where you can defend yourself with courage, but not with fear. Both of those qualities, loving and courage, are indigenous to the human species."
As a sort of warm-up for the season, this weekend SPRC presents a limited, four-performance run of Some Shaw, a reading of selections from plays by George Bernard Shaw. The readings, taken from plays including Caesar and Cleopatra, Pygmalion and Man of Destiny, will be performed by Gambrell Hovick and Karner Benjamin, who returns to the stage after an absence of several years.
For more information on SPRC''s season, phone 624-1531.