Whatever other criticisms may have been leveled at Blunt Theatre Company in the past, there has never been any question about the group's intelligent and creative risk-taking. Not everything they have done has worked, but at least their productions had innovative thinking and a youthful fearlessness backing them up.
So it came as something of a shock to see Troy Acree's production of Calderon De La Barca's 16th-century masterpiece Life Is A Dream, a production so inept it seemed to ask, "did anyone actually read the script, and if so, did they understand it?"
If director Acree understood De La Barca's mystical and dreamlike text, that understanding was not made clear by his lackluster and pointless staging. There was blocking, there were fights (frailly choreographed by Ian Marshall), and actors recited their lines and picked up their cues (barely). What seemed like a potentially good cast was left to their own devices, resulting in a mixed bag of performance styles that never gelled into one cohesive whole. Most disappointing of all was the performance of Sheila Morgan in the trouser role of Rosaura. An expert light comedienne, Morgan gave every indication that she would excel in the works of Coward, Maugham, and such like. In a more auspicious production, Scott Roberts and Brooke Delaney would also have shone, but along with Morgan were undermined by the lack of a firm guiding hand.
Perhaps the most telling (read: damning) flaw in the evening was Colleen Kesterton's costumes. Rich velvets and brocades, while appropriate to the period, were not appropriate to the sweltering conditions of an open-air production in New York City in July. The performers were visibly uncomfortable, their movements restricted by the heavy materials, and their energy sapped by the unnecessary additional heat. In addition, textual references to "my silken wardrobe" uttered by an actor swathed in velvet gave the impression that someone wasn't on the ball. Change the line, or change the costume. The uncredited lighting (comprising outdoor patio floodlights pasted over with yellow gels) was bright and unvarying and further exposed the production by allowing it to be clearly seen.
The beautiful clifflike outcroppings of La Plaza Cultural made a perfect setting, both for De La Barca's play and as a place for Acree to dash it on the rocks. Unfortunately, this was no dream production. It was all too terribly real, and made all the more disappointing because of this intrepid company's past endeavors.
(Also featuring Kelly Cole, Ray Crisara, David Dartley, Steven Hart, Wayne Henry, Caroline Liebert, Alicia Lizama, Noah Todd. Lighting uncredited.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita