There is danger in covering up the cracks. You can only hide behind a painted face for so long before the stuffing all comes flooding out and the truth is revealed. A hilarious and heartbreaking tale unfolds in just such a fashion as the Everyman Theatre continues into the back half of their 2013/2014 season with their production of The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Derek Goldman, this stunning emotional production keeps you fascinated as the story unfolds; a wending path amid the relationship of actor and dresser, human being and human being; a cherished tale of love, strife, struggle, and acceptance all acted brilliantly by an assorted mix of Everyman Company Members and fine area talent. A stunning and moving production, it’s the best yet of the season.
In January 1942, a playhouse in the English provinces is a rather unsettling setting at best. Sound Designer Chas Marsh draws the harsh reality of that time period into existence with his overwhelming craftsmanship. The theatre is flooded to the point of bursting with the sounds of bombs, air raid sirens, and shattering glass when the bombs strike; a spine-tingling realistic blast of aural terror that brings the reality of the war’s presence to the forefront of the production. Marsh has impeccable timing with these sound shifts during pauses between scenes, never letting the audience settle into a state of complacency or comfort, always resurging the notion that the world could crumble around itself at any moment.
Equally stunning work springing forth from the design team is the mighty set created by Scenic Designer James Fouchard. Acting as an intrinsic character integral to the show’s progression, Fouchard’s elaborate and highly detailed set is practically ripped from the history books that documented the old theatres in England of that time period. With a brilliant slide-out dressing room that leaves no detail under-appreciated, Fouchard’s set is authentic and creates a genuine reality for the cast enabling a seamless performance. The inner workings of the ‘backstage’ created during the moments of ‘Leer’ are of particular note, the style and antiquated feel of some of the stage devices especially enchanting.
It is the collaborative acting team gathered under the strong arm of Director Derek Goldman that makes this production a success. While largely focused on two main characters, the production and every actor in it function as a well oiled machine; reflecting the bonded company nature of the Shakespearean company within the play itself. Every character has their place and every actor knows their character, each like a hand-crafted cog rotating in place to keep the enormous machine of the production turning.
Bit parts add levity to the show, the two that leap immediately to mind being Thornton (Wil Love) and Oxenby (James Whalen). Love’s petrified comic character, donned as the fool for the production of Leer, warrants waves of laughter from the audience. With his simplistic approach to being terrified in the presence of Sir, the notion that only the elderly being left behind for the stage because of the war becomes quite comical. Whalen’s stalwart attitude and gruff nature give his character prickly spines and make for interesting moments of confrontation when he is encountered. Together the pair add depth and intrigue to the production.
When there’s trouble there’s bound to be a woman involved and in this case there are three. Madge (Megan Anderson) is the uppity company assistant, inadvertently acting as the company manager with her shrill ways and punctuated attitude and delivery. Anderson’s exacerbated moment trying to conduct the storm is sheer comic gold, a sharp contrast to her otherwise prim and proper nature. Her accent above the others sparkles in its creation; truly honing in on the proper fashion of speaking for her character’s supposed class and rank.
Her Ladyship (Deborah Hazlett) is another female who is fit to be tied for all the support she gives Sir. A seemingly concerned and worrisome character at first that façade is quickly lifted to reveal her true and tired nature of putting on the pretenses of the company. Hazlett balances her pointed and rather aggressive feelings toward a man at the end of his career and her concern for him in smooth equal strokes, never letting one trait dominate more than the others. Her interactions with Sir are a collection of awkward tenderness and bristly barbs that strike at his core; swiftly delivered in both instances.
It’s Irene (Emily Vere Nicoll) that warrants watching when it comes to Sir. At first Nicoll’s character seems little more than a props girl, with an insignificant role in the production. But there comes a moment when she is so vibrant that the light of passion is beaming from her soul out through every limb of her body and ever elated spike in her pitch. Nicoll exudes a manic exhilaration, bursting at the seams with elation over the possibility of actualizing not only her acting dream but being accepted in the eyes of Sir. There is something frighteningly honest about the moment she shares with him; a moment crafted so exceptionally that one can hardly tear their eyes away from the scene.
Sir (Carl Schurr) is the man around whom all the commotion flows. Schurr’s performance is breathtaking; tottering between the states of confusion and chaos as this once mighty character slips further and further to the end of his very frayed and frazzled rope. His voice is booming with the livelihood of an actor in his hay day, but tempered with the fear of one not so far from death.
It is the unspoken understanding of the organic functionality between Schurr as Sir and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Norman, the play’s title character. There is something deliriously beautiful about the give and take of their banter, and the way that they understand each other on the stage. A more perfect chemistry would be difficult to imagine. The dependency and adoration blended together in their performances make for a truly heart-wrenching series of scenes that move the audience from laughter to tears without pause or preamble.
Nelson gives a stellar performance as the dynamic Norman; encompassing a myriad of emotional changes that brings the audience to their feet in standing ovation once the final curtain falls. The madness that lingers on the periphery of Norman comes bursting out in one of the most harrowing emotional moments ever to be conceived upon the stage; loneliness, unrequited passion and devotion, sorrow, remorse, and desperation all bound into one stunning moment that leaves nary a dry eye around the house. Nelson counters this all culminating moment at the end of the show with his rather flamboyant mannerisms that build up to it. Fully grounded in the character’s physicality with moments of witty hilarity and snappy attitude, he is sass, charm, and indefatigable energy all rolled into one brilliant man. Coping with chaos as a lifestyle norm has never been more intense and Nelson delivers without fail one of the finest performances this season has seen.
A truly moving piece of theatre, with excellent performances all round, The Dresser should be seen before it closes in just a few short weeks time.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.