By Nancy Grossman, Broadway World
A Selection of 3 Monologues by Alan Bennett, Directed by Sr. Danielle Dwyer; Production Manager, Chris Kanaga; Stage Managers, Amy Mitchell, Br. Stephen Velie; Costumes, Rebecca Lussier, Anne Swidrak; Make-up/Hair, Sandra Spatzeck-Olsen, Katie Tingley; Set Designer, Peter Haig; Set Construction, Paul Moore, Soren Spatzeck-Olsen; Set Painting, Lexa Hale, Stephanie Haig, Lindsey Kanaga; Properties, Lexa Hale, Sr. Abigail Reid, Sarah Hale; Lighting, Tom Lynch, Scott Stipetic; Sound, Sr. Rosemary Ingwersen, Andrew Mitchell, Br. Tim Pehta; Music, Rachel McKendree; Stage Crew, Br. Stephen Velie, Heather Norman, Sarah Hale, Kyle Norman; Venue Master, Br. Paul Norman
CAST: Brad Lussier (A Chip in the Sugar), Rachel McKendree (Bed Among the Lentils), Sr. Danielle Dwyer (A Lady of Letters)
Presented July 31-August 9 by Elements Theatre Company at Paraclete House, Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA; For information 508-240-2400 or www.elementstheatre.org
Taking a break from their customary intense focus on the works of William Shakespeare, Elements Theatre Company featured another brilliant British playwright this summer with their recent run of Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. Part of a series of 12 monologues originally written for and broadcast by the BBC in 1988 and 1998, Elements selected three to present before live audiences over the last two weekends at Paraclete House at Rock Harbor in Orleans, introducing a trio of characters who tell their stories from their own egocentric perspectives.
Although Bennett’s creations are rather ordinary, albeit quirky, individuals, the performances by Brad Lussier, Rachel McKendree, and Sr. Danielle Dwyer were extraordinary, each totally inhabiting their roles physically and emotionally. “A Chip in the Sugar” had Lussier as Graham, a woeful middle-aged man whose elderly mother reconnects with an old flame, threatening the status quo of their symbiotic relationship. McKendree wore the dour expression of Susan, a dissatisfied vicar’s wife who seeks comfort in the bottle and another man’s arms in “Bed Among the Lentils.” Letter-writing may not be terribly popular anymore, but it is the favorite pastime of Irene, a busybody brought vividly to life by Dwyer in “A Lady of Letters.”
Performing a monologue presents very different challenges from working with a scene partner. The actor has only himself or herself to rely on, as opposed to receiving cues and support from another actor. The actors (including Bennett) who performed in the original BBC production had to address the camera, but the Elements actors were able to establish a connection with the audience as they spoke across the fourth wall. The people who populate their stories – Graham’s “Mam” and her beau, Susan’s fellow parishioners, and the many recipients of Irene’s letters – are like invisible scene partners evoked by Bennett’s rich language, who came alive in the riveting portrayals by Lussier, McKendree, and Dwyer.
Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Elements, Dwyer also served as director of Talking Heads, successfully finding ways to keep the audience engaged despite minimal action on the stage. Each monologue had pauses which allowed the actors to reset themselves, sometimes moving from one area of the three-tiered set to another. Lighting faded to black and recorded music (primarily violin or piano) accompanied the pauses, affording the stage crew time to shift props and the actors to make small costume changes.
Talking Heads provides a slice of life view of three sad people with diverse circumstances, whose commonality is need. Bennett brilliantly conveys their humanity, capturing the inherent humor and tragedy, but it was the fine work of these three actors that enabled the audience to relate to the existential predicaments of the characters and fully understand their discomfort. In the end, Graham, Susan, and Irene had each learned something about themselves and the Elements Theatre Company production honored their stories.