Happy Mother’s Day

Eric Coble received his MFA in acting from Ohio University, but his new play, The Velocity of Autumn, is almost a perfect example of the type of work that comes out of contemporary writing programs.  It is sharp, well-written, and has an immaculate sense of form.  On the other hand, it is unsurprising and timid; any attempts to challenge the audience’s expectations or theatrical conventions are squashed in favor of good dialogue and well-worn narrative arcs.  It is far too neat, which is more of a systemic problem than one specific to this play. Continue reading “Happy Mother’s Day”


Scourge of Human Folly

The word “wolves” has three syllables in Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep—it’s pronounced something like “wool-vuh-zz”—and, like everything in this spoof of Gothic narratives, it is unflappably silly and rather funny despite itself.  Irma Vep, which plays a bit like the creative team behind The Naked Gun hijacked Hitchcock’s Rebecca, features two actors (Arnie Burton and Robert Sella) straddling eight different roles and about as many accents.  Lord Edgar (Mr. Sella), an Egyptologist, brings his second bride, Lady Enid (Mr. Burton), back to his home Mandacrest Estate.  His first wife, Irma Vep (the name is an anagram of “vampire,” as those who have seen the 1915 French serial Les Vampires will already know), continues to haunt the place both literally and figuratively, her portrait overlooking the living room and her maid, Jane Twisden (Mr. Sella), remaining loyal to her memory long after her death.  Any further explanation of plot would be both fruitless and beside the point: needless to say, before the final curtain, we meet not only the title vampire but also a werewolf and a reanimated ancient Egyptian princess. Continue reading “Scourge of Human Folly”

The Shark Has Lost Its Teeth

It is difficult to say whether Brecht has dated, whether he was never really all that good in the first place, or whether he is just very, very difficult to stage well.  The Foundry Theatre’s recent production of Good Person of Szechwan was a revelation, but it leaves one wondering if any production by that excellent troupe would have been so.  Atlantic’s high-end revival of The Threepenny Opera, on the other hand—this “opera for beggars” whose price of admission is surely keeping out the beggars—doesn’t have the sting of capitalist satire we are told was Brecht’s specialty. Continue reading “The Shark Has Lost Its Teeth”

The Snail’s House

One of the toughest parts about playing iconic Shakespearean roles is convincing the audience that you are saying and thinking these lines for the first time.  How is one, for example, to recite “To be or not to be?” or “Never, never, never, never, never” without summoning up the legion of actors who have already cemented these words in our consciousnesses?  This is what immediately strikes one about Michael Pennington’s Lear: he seems unaware that he is the King Lear.  There is a surprising casualness which makes the experience more immediate than usual—we are always with Mr. Pennington, never recalling his predecessors. Continue reading “The Snail’s House”