Unforgiven

As young Peggy, Gerlach sidesteps any attempt to present a balanced portrayal, instead seizing Mastrosimone's one-dimensional conniver and playing her to the hilt. Both as the spoiled pet who shuns her father's advice to flirt with soldiers from both camps and as the woman who fakes hysteria to save herself from a charge of treason, Gerlach provides the production's rare captivating moments. On the other hand, given little to do but carry her husband's coat, Olsen's solemn, defeated elder Peggy bears little resemblance to the firebrand of her youth.

The remainder of the cast deserves commendations of valor: Owens' comic timing pays off in his depiction of Peggy's father and various dignitaries; Newfield's upper-crust prissiness upholds our preconceptions of Royalists; Hilliard invests generals Washington and Clinton with the right amount of war-weary realism; Kevin Blake nails the disillusioned cynicism of the impoverished rebel army's young soldiers and couriers; and Tarallo hits a realistic note as Arnold's loyal subordinate. Yet the play's perpetually shifting chronology and necessity for exposition to set up historical events ultimately work against the economies of doubling roles, making it difficult, for example, to distinguish between Hilliard as Continental Army generals Washington and Horatio Gates.

Adding to the confusion is Jim Fulton's dream-like shadowy lighting for the play's later setting and his choice of bright vistas for the earlier years; these peg the time shifts but fail to assist in explaining the significance of the elder Benedict and Peggy's haphazard time-travels. Similarly Michael Amico's minimal set of tables and chairs placed before a background of eighteenth-century war artifacts solves the technical problem of accommodating scenes that take place over twenty years on two different continents, but it stops short of investing any one setting with a distinctive feel. Finally, as for Mark Pirolo's functional costumes, at least the red and blue army coats help us to distinguish the Americans from the Brits.

Given two plays to direct -- one in which a young man turns against his country and one filled with that same man's later regrets -- J. Barry Lewis imparts a definite rhythm to each, contrasting the straightforward thrust of the American Revolution era against the slower-paced tentative gloom of Arnold's final years. Distressingly, though, Lewis never consolidates the two to produce one unified theatrical experience. Then again, working from Mastrosimone's script, how could he? An award-winning playwright (Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for The Woolgatherer, New York Critics Circle Award for Extremities), as well as a successful television writer (Sinatra miniseries, The Burning Season), Mastrosimone delivers a cinematic script instead of one crafted for the stage. Camera work, a soundtrack, and clever editing could translate the story's doppelgangers, vague historical sketches, and sweeping scenes into a comprehensible tale. For the theater, however, where the audience serves as both cameraman and editor, deciding where to focus, Mastrosimone's script lacks the visual and verbal clues necessary to create a memorable dramatic impact.

Benedict Arnold.
Written by William Mastrosimone. Directed by J. Barry Lewis. Starring Dan Leonard, Bob Rogerson, Alana J. Gerlach, Joanna Olsen, Anthony Newfield, Ryan Hilliard, Michael George Owens, Barry Tarallo, and Kevin Blake. Through November 30. For more information call 561-585-3433 or 800-514-3837.

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