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Theatre to the Point

Theatre #tothepoint for DC, MD & VA

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Keith Cassidy

Equivocation

At Silver Spring Stage

Bill Cain’s play is a timely and playful exploration of propaganda and fake news as we are transported to early 17th century London. What would have happened if the Government had asked William Shagspeare (sic) to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot?

Set Designer, Bridgid Burge, has created a simple but flexible setting that features wooden beams in pleasing geometric shapes (surely inspired by one of our locations, the Globe Theatre) that allows director, Madeleine Smith, the canvas she needs to create her play(s) within a play.

Smith clearly understands this two sided space well as she uses the stages’ central pillar to anchor many of the scenes. The movement of her actors is skilled and always with intent – and the actors are certainly a skilled bunch without a weak link in the cast. Shag is played by Keith Cassidy and while his first act performance is fine enough he really comes into his own after the intermission once the material allows him to explore more of an emotional range. Gary Sullivan is at his finest when he embodies the physicality of Robert Cecil and this three hour production is always at it’s most sharp when Sullivan is driving the pace as the cold and calculating Secretary of State.

That pacing is not helped by the transitions (the awkward silences could so easily be avoided) which are the weak point of the production. Dylan Sullivan’s sound design features some beautiful music that really elevates some of the more poignant moments but the sound cues always feel too short, ending abruptly. If they had continued through the scene changes, combined with a little more connection to James Morrison’s lighting, the flow would have been so much more cohesive. This frustration is elevated because Smith manages the more difficult in scene changes deftly as the actors transition between locations and roles.

Nicholas Temple excels in these moments and his vulnerability in his portrayal of Tom Wintour really helps ground the show. Temple is a stand out of the first act but things go slightly awry with his attempted Scott (ish) accent once he takes on the crown of King James. With actors playing actors it would be so easy to over act with much of this material but Smith’s cast never fall into this trap and there is clearly respect for the writing and a truthfulness in the performances – particularly from Tom Howley, another with commanding stage presence.

There are some other issues with the production. The safety equipment for the hanging scenes is cumbersome and awkward to watch as the attempts to attach the noose correctly occur in full light (and we see the equipment on their slumped bodies after they are cut down) It would have been better to light it more dramatically and pull the other action downstage so as to not highlight the issue. The pace towards the end of the show is sloppy and borderline indulgent and while part of that is due to the writing the last 15 minutes could be tightened up considerably.

We can say, without equivocation, that this is a show worth seeing. It’s well costumed, the fight choreography is solid and above all the acting is at a consistently high level.

The ticket price is $25 but as you can see we rank this show at a $32 price point making it good value for money. You can see how our scoring works here https://theatretothepoint.com/scoring/

Equivocation continues at Sliver Spring Stage until February 2nd. http://www.ssstage.org/equivocation/

Review: Omnium Gatherum

Omnium Gatherum.jpg

Omnium Gatherum. A collection of miscellaneous people brought to us by Alexandra Gersten-Vasilliaros and Theresa Rebeck who wrote the play in the direct aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Their work represents the conversations that were being had in all walks of life in post 9/11 America in the form of an elegant dinner party where it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

The Silver Spring Stage features a relatively simple set design from Don Slater – we feel like we’re in a high end New York apartment – with a table set with seven places. There is one entrance out of this room that will eerily glow with each use and black curtains at the extremities of the stage where serving tables will unnervingly appear from and vanish into. This two sided stage is always the challenge of this space and the positioning of the table, where most of the action will take place, was likely something that kept the Director, Bill Hurlbut, awake at night. The sight lines are not ideal (the experience of the audience likely greatly differs depending on their seat) and we found ourselves for much of the first half of the play looking at the back of three of our protagonists who in turn blocked the faces of those who were facing us. The table is just upstage of center and allows plenty of room for the actors to break away downstage from the group when the moment dictates. It may have been a stronger choice to place the table as far downstage as possible, to really make the audience feel like the eighth member of the dinner party, and allow a more natural choice when the characters need space to break away from all of us. Such are the mysterious goings on at this gathering that the periodic lighting and sound effects could perhaps have even been accompanied by the use of a turntable changing the orientation of the table and allowing us a different perspective of the evening’s guests. This is, however, a well-directed and well-acted play. To hold our attention so closely for over an hour and a half (with no intermission) is testament to that and the character work that has been achieved. The pacing is well done with overlapping dialogue used where appropriate to keep things ticking along and there is just enough intrigue to have us forming our own theories while we follow the debate. There are a few too many times where the need to make a point is combined with leaving the table and while it makes things visually more interesting there were opportunities to be creative in finding justifications for the movement that were passed up.

Truthful performances are absolutely essential for this play to work and thankfully we have a cast who largely succeed in that challenge. Lou Pangaro is absolutely compelling as Khalid as he evolves from quietly expressing his world view into raw honest pleading and his arc through the course of the evening is a joy to watch. Roger (Keith Cassidy) is the Capitalist of the group and the angriest about what has happened to his country. Cassidy is terrific in all of his exchanges and he has a wonderful raspiness to his voice that allows him to commit fully to these moments. Cassidy does have a tendency to pull focus with over playing his reactions to other people’s dialogue and less would definitely be more in this aspect of his work. The moments of playful contempt shared between Roger and Lydia (Leigh Rawls) are the most enjoyable of the night with both actors fully immersed in their beliefs and back story. Suzie (Wendy Baird) represents much of America and is a delightful mix of good intentions,  a little ignorance and unexpected moments of depth. There is a ‘band playing on while the Titanic sinks’ quality to the character that Baird captures wonderfully and it’s a more nuanced performance than you originally realize as the plot develops. Suzie introduces a surprise guest of the evening and Omar LaTiri brings a controlled intensity and believability to a role it would have been very easy to turn into a cliché.

Bill Hurlbut gets good performances from his entire cast and the mystery of the story is handled deftly with the smart lighting and sound design. The questions raised in this play have shaped our current reality and they are asked in a way that will make you feel a whole range of emotions – not least to laugh as it is genuinely funny – which is what good theatre does.

#tothepoint Rating: 65/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $25

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $30. We recommend selecting a seat near the center walkway between the two seating sections. Omnium Gatherum continues at Silver Spring Stage until November 18th.

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