Eugene Weekly : Theater : 3.4.10


OSF’s Opening Salvos Resonate
Get tickets now for these two classic, strong plays
by Anna Grace & Suzi Steffen

Sizzlingly Striking Cat

“Bravo!  Bravo!”  yelled the man to my left as he leapt to his feet, and that was only when the curtain swiveled around for intermission. OSF’s near perfect production of Tennessee Williams’ iconic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof deserves his praise.

Maggie (Stephanie Beatriz) tries to connect with Brick (Danforth Comins). Photo by David Cooper.

Maggie the Cat’s desperate play for self preservation and Brick’s angst about a deep male friendship may belong to the Mississippi Delta of 1955, but the struggles of power, sex and unrequited love that permeate a family are timeless. In this slightly revised 1974 version of the play, Williams is relentless, exposing anguish, shame and fear until audiences are acutely uncomfortable but powerless to look away. 

Danforth Comins is extraordinary as Brick, able to move, speak and even sweat along his brow and upper lip like an alcoholic on a binge. Stephanie Beatriz is equally satisfying in the role of Maggie the Cat. Big Daddy (Michael Winters) echoes Maggie’s scrapping, passionate nature. Further cementing this exceptional show are Kate Mulligan and Rex Young as Mae and Gooper.  

All action is intentionally set in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom on the Pollitt plantation, symbolizing the absence of boundary between private and public in a family. Brilliant designer Christopher Acebo further plays on this by pushing a circular thrust out into the seating, and surrounding it by two layers of sheer white curtains in which characters can eavesdrop or escape. Thus is director Christopher Liam Moore aided in his endeavor to haul his audience along with his characters, into the tense bedroom and onto the “hot tin roof” where pain and frustration are laid raw.  — AG

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs through July 4 at the Bowmer Theatre. 

Hipster Hamlet

Playing Hamlet must be one of the the most challenging and the most glorious opportunities for a Shakespearean actor. Dan Donohue’s skinny-jeaned, tight-T-shirted Hamlet exhibits a sense of humor and a distanced self-awareness that doesn’t quite let him anticipate the consequences of his actions. He’s fallible, snarky, wounded and full of contradictions; he’s an urban man brought reluctantly home from the city to deal with family issues he’d rather not face at the ancestral castle.

OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, also the director of Hamlet, and Donohue worked together closely to create this modern version, where the King of Denmark’s castle guards wear SECURITY on their uniforms and shine powerful flashlights from their automatic weapons. Christopher Acebo’s multi-door and movable-wall set creates the sense that Hamlet feels trapped despite the many means of escape. 

Donohue inhabits Hamlet so fully, breathes the lines so well, that even those solilioquies filled with famous aphorisms and quotes seem natural, proceeding from character. He’s such a graceful actor too that he beautifully dances the American Sign Language he employs to talk to his father, Old Hamlet (Howie Seago, the Deaf actor who was in Music Man last year). 

Richard Elmore’s normal spluttery ways fit spluttery old Polonius well, and it’s easy to see his kids, hippie gardener Ophelia (Susannah Flood) and bearded indie rock dude Laertes (David DeSantos), needing their space. On the other hand, Jeffrey King doesn’t give Claudius creditable motive; the usurper king seems vicious and vengeful, true, but without affection for Gertrude (Greta Oglesby, a wonderful actor directed to be too passive in this role). Armando Durán is miscast and badly costumed as Horatio; we don’t see his loyalty to and love for his friend until far too late.

The Player King (Ramiz Monsef) and his band, especially the Player Queen (Khatt Taylor), give the play within a play a lyrical, driving performance, the beat of iambic pentameter and the beats of hip hop melding into a new sound.  Donohue’s incandescent performance deserves repeat viewing, as does this flawed but gorgeously stunning Hamlet. —SS

Hamlet runs through Oct. 30 at the Bowmer Theatre.

See more reviews and many photos and videos online at EW! A Blog.