nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 16, 2008
I was very fortunate to be able to see The Heather Company, Inc's production of Galatea by Frank Tangredi. It has been some time since I was moved by a simply staged, straightforward play that lets the text do all the work.
This is the story of two seemingly different worlds colliding in a way that brings out all their similarities. Lorainne Hill portrays Merle Birmingham, a fairly typical professional artist in search of the muse that will help her bring her latest sculpture, titled "Galatea," to life. Hill plays the part beautifully, accenting the character's vulnerability, insecurity, and staggering blindness to what is right in front of her with total honesty and craft. Hill is smooth and easy to watch. Her past is shadowed by an unhappy relationship with her father and memories of his abuse of her mother. She is afraid of commitment even though she has found an excellent and devoted partner in her lover Adam Levitt, played sublimely by Greg Manion. He delivers Adam's sweet and smart humor in a very relatable way that could easily have been overdone.
Merle's muse comes in the form of Kate Hagen. Kate is an obviously worn housewife who Merle discovers in the supermarket. Merle follows Kate home to invite her to her studio and meets her crass and rough husband, Al. Al, played with staggering realism by Ronald Quigley, is an ex-firefighter with a chip on his shoulder. He is verbally abusive to his wife and doesn't care who is watching. We also meet the Hagen's daughter Barbara (Jacqueline Hickel) who somehow made it out of this house containing a loveless marriage in one piece.
And so the tale has begun to take shape. We have all the players of a typical family drama, but somehow it isn't so typical. We are permitted to witness five characters grow and change in front of us. We see a woman who exists on the idea that she has an open mind but cannot see past her preconceptions and dark memories to the thing she's looking for that's standing right in front of her. We see a woman whom we want to be more than what she is showing us, to reveal her true self. We watch a man who just needed a chance embrace his natural gifts and attempt to salvage a life. This is what good theatre is made of. A slice of life that isn't too showy, but simple and true.
Needless to say, the strongest part of this production is the script. The smart and funny dialogue and brilliantly fleshed-out characters make it clear that Tangredi really made something good and director Alex Sol was smart not to tamper too much with it. In fact, some of the acting took away a bit for me. Although I tried the whole time, I never fully understood if Adrian Lee's disconnected portrayal of Kate, the sad wife, was intentional or not. She did things that didn't make sense alongside the other actors. She didn't take a true bite of food at a table where her husband took bite after bite and "chewed dramatically." She rarely seemed to listen to the people on stage with her and responded dejectedly and in strangely awkward ways. Yet, that is the character. A woman that is impossible to understand unless you place expectations on her and want to see something come out, and nothing ever does. So either Lee is a genius or is in need of quite a bit of work.
To say the least, this show is worth a trip to the Barrow Street Theatre this week. It is rare to find a script so lacking in pops and buzzes that just exists by itself. Tangredi has shown us that he has something to say. He wants us to understand that we can never know anyone's full story no matter what they tell us because there is always something else there. There is always SOMEONE else there, even if we can't see it with our own eyes. We can only see what we want to see. Tangredi is a playwright to watch and The Heather Company, Inc has shown that they have a good eye.