BEFORE THE FIRE
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
Before the Fire is a great example of how little you need to make
solid theatre. This first production by Johnny Belle, a company
dedicated to providing a home for Southern artists in New York, uses the
minimal features of Arthur’s Dress Shop to create a London jail cell in
1666. With few lights and basic set pieces, and despite a barely
functional level of costuming, Catherine Sanderlin’s able cast creates a
full, vivid and entertaining theatrical event.
August 15, 2002
Set at the time of both a devastating outbreak of the plague and the Great Fire, the play weaves together the lives of five women from different backgrounds in ways they could not have conceived of prior to their imprisonment. Although towards the end the volume of connections did strain my belief a bit, I was caught up in the story deeply enough not to be distracted. This is a world that sees a whore and a Puritan to be equally threatening to the civil order. All of the women are threats in ways they do not necessarily perceive.
Written by Catherine Trieshmann, Before The Fire uses its strong narrative voice to focus on a variety of women’s lives (a Lady, a Puritan, a gypsy, an informer/whore, and a thief) and their lack of personal sovereignty. In a chaotic time, they all are desperate for connection. The two women from the higher levels of society refer constantly to men they believe to be their emotional bulwarks. The women from the lower classes maneuver for the attention of the child thief (engagingly played by Rachel Mewbron). Not only is each woman’s sense of allegiance revealed to be illusory or unstable, they cannot even rely upon the fragile alliances they make among each other. Their own preconceptions are manipulated by the other women and by unseen guards, causing them each to constantly question who can be trusted.
The ensemble is talented and they make the most of the many possibilities in this text. Johnny Belle has provided a solid evening of theatre.