Poster by LaurenDesign
August 14 - September 13, 1997
Patrick Towne - Nicholas /
The recipe of using a play within a play to tell a more detailed story or comment on the production itself is tried and true. Look at Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Michael Frayn's Noises Off, David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre, Ronald Harwood's The Dresser, and recently Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo, just to name a few. Using this device, an opportunity for humor, biting witticisms and comedic insight is possible. Plus, anything usually goes.
Well, there's a new play-within-a-play to add to the
list, and though there are times in Nicholas DeBeaubien's Hunchback of Notre Dame where
the action drags just a bit, this is nevertheless a fresh, witty, biting and truly
hysterical play that is delivered flawlessly by one of the most talented groups of
actors/comedians this reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time.
First the play... and the play. Without giving too much away, playwright Nicholas DeBeaubien greets us and immediately breaks the fourth wall, talking straight to us and letting us know that this is "the people's theatre" amd we are all responsible for the production we are about to see. DeBeaubien,a struggling playwright/director/actor, is desperately trying to come up with a fresh, possibly politically strirring take on Victor Hugo's classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After the intial scene of a classic Hunchback staging, he comes up woith such off-the-wall takes as setting his production on the Notre Dame football field, with Quasimodo as one of ther football team's heroes and Esemralda a spirited, flirtatious cheerleader. The second act shows Esmeralda as a cabaret singer (a la Cabaret) and Quasimodo, another cabaret performer whose bell-ringing act is an absolute stroke of genius and a true showstopper. The play and the play-within-the-play both rush to unexpected, wacky, and eventually hysterical conclusions.
And this is a dream cast. Four talents that can do everything and then some. Patrick Towne plays Nicholas DeBeaubien (and Phoebus) with an artistically maniacal air that is right on. Michelle Philippe plays Laura (and Esmeralda) with dangerously sympathetic strength; just when you think you know her, she shows another shade. John Sylvain plays Ward (and Father Frollo) with expert timing; he's a charmer who knows how to get a laugh out of every line. And Andrew Friedman as Jackie (and Quasimodo) is a comedic gem -- jaded and sarcastic, but willing to do anything... and he does. Joel Zighelboim contributes much as the Phantom of the Heliotrope, providing live music and sound effects from his perch above the action. On to the production staff, who are equally talented. An across-the-board attention to detail is a rare find in small theatre where the struggle to keep costs low but production values high is oftentimes overwhelming. John Sylvain's lighting design is fun; Perry Ash's costumes are fantastic (the costumes, at times, becoming characters themselves); Lita Roth's props fill the stage and Corinne Robinson's artsitic stage graphics help us with time and location. The original score by Zighelboim and Gene Lushtak is as unique as the production itself.
Enough raving and rehashing of plot and detail; we don't want to give any more away. Just go see Nicholas DeBeaubien's Hunchback of Notre Dame -- you simply won't want to miss it.
- Amy Schaumburg
Although this collaboratively penned play-within-a-play is billed as being about the "responsibility of literary interpretation," as well as being a "biting lampoon on 'serious artist' types," it comes off as a clever spoof of really awful plays. In Act I, Nicholas DeBeaubien (Patrick Towne), an overwrought playwright obsessed with writing the definitive interpretation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, introduces himself to the audience and explains his vision. Then for the next two hours, almost every interpretation -- from sci-fi to Andy Hardy -- is hilariously performed by four actors. All play their "scenes" wallowing in corniness, juxtaposed by backstage moments which show the thespians' "real life" problems. Ward (John Sylvain doubling as Father Apollo) is a gay hypochondriac; Jackie (Andrew Friedman doubling as Quasimodo) really does have a hunchback; and Laura (Michelle Philippe doubling as Esmeralda) is an ambitious New Ager.
The company gives convincing portrayals while playwrights Eddie Levi Lee, Rebecca Wackler and Larry Larson fearlessly poke fun at all aspects of stage production, and fill their play with running gags. For instance, no one ever gets kissed; just as lips are puckered, the play is interrupted. Adam Bitterman's free-form direction works well with the anarchistic concept, though some people might be put off by the insider theater jokes.
- Diedre Johnson
1997 DRAMALOGUE AWARDS
|PRODUCTION - Jonathan L. Goldstein
|DIRECTION - Adam Bitterman
- Patrick Towne, Andrew Friedman,
|COSTUME DESIGN - Perry Ash
|LIGHTING DESIGN - John Sylvain
|SOUND DESIGN - Gene Lushtak