It takes a certain amount of genius (and gall) to fashion a side-splitting farce out of fear, paranoia, and the loss of individual freedoms. But the combination of Vaclav Havel's devastating intellect and the verbal pyrotechnics of Tom Stoppard with Rude Mechanicals Theatre Company's high-octane energy created an explosively funny evening out of Stoppard's translation of Havel's savage black comedy, Largo Desolato.
Set in Czechoslovakia just before the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Largo Desolato tells the story of Professor Leopold Nettles, a writer trapped in his apartment by his fear of mysterious visitors who threaten his ethical principles, his sanity, and even his life. Under Derek Cecil's astute direction, the inherent humor in even the blackest situations was mined and effortlessly blended into one steadily rising line of tension and hilarity, ticking like a time-bomb towards its inexorable conclusion. With a facile, sure grasp on the demanding material, Cecil and his highly skilled cast executed every perfectly timed comic move with the ease of a well-oiled piece of chillingly efficient machinery. Particularly outstanding in an outstanding ensemble were Eric Siegel, an edgy bundle of jangling nerves as Leopold; Ryan Rilette and Christopher Hickman, simmering with a barely contained malicious glee as two members of the state police bent on interrogating Leopold; and Matthew Lawler, who nearly stopped the show with his profound pontificating.
Tony Andrea's severely angular red-and-white living room set, along with the bold palette of Scott Clyve's lighting, gave the evening the singular look of a well-designed work of graphic art. Scott Miller/Broken Mask Productions' costumes were similarly woven into the needs of the text and worked by simply not calling attention to themselves and allowing the all-too-human characters wearing them to dominate.
Skipping blithely across a tightrope between outrageous farce
and bleak despair, Rude Mechanicals' production of Largo Desolato
proved that serious themes can also be exuberantly entertaining,
especially when produced and performed with the intelligent care
that so obviously went into this production. Exhibiting an attention
to detail and professionalism rare for Off-Off Broadway, let alone
a company that is barely a year old, Rude Mechanicals Theatre
Company are definitely a company to watch.
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita