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Cedar Lane Stage The Vertical Hour

By • Oct 20th, 2008 • Category: Reviews
The Vertical Hour
Cedar Lane Stage
Cedar Lane UU Church, Bethesda, MD
$15/$13 Seniors/$10 Students
Through October 26th

Sitting in a sun drenched chapel on a Sunday afternoon, watching Cedar Lane Stage‘s production, The Vertical Hour, I couldn’t help but wish that there were more people in the audience. There should have been more people in the audience…the show is stellar. It’s a gripping play about a former Iraq war correspondent turned Yale professor. On an overseas visit to her boyfriend’s estranged British father, she must defend her actions and opinions to a man with his own staunch viewpoint. The journey helps her learn more about herself, her relationship with her boyfriend, and where her place in the world will be.

The space here is unusual; there is a stage, but this production, like many done at CLS, chose to utilize a theatre in the round feel by using the floor space in between three sections of seats. The effect is gratifying; one feels that they have happened upon an intimate scene. The actors are right on top of the audience, but instead of feeling uncomfortable, you’re permitted a fully dimensional view of the performers, with uninhibited access to their facial expressions, the quiet breaks of emotion in their voices, and their interactions with each other.

Director David Dieudonne has done a phenomenal job with two major elements: casting and pacing. The casting is of obvious import; but in a show that runs 2.5 hours, pacing is also crucial. Dieudonne has established a brisk pacing that flows and yet never seems rushed. The conversation in this wordy piece is refreshingly natural. He never allows the movement to become static, nor is it ever forced. Everything is unaffected, fluid, and finely tuned.

Special attention must be given to the excellent lighting and sound design. Even without many of the resources of other community theaters, CLS makes every detail of a good show important. The set changes have the cast pitching in to ensure that they’re quick and seamless.

Lisa Hawkins as Nadia was a formidable figure. It’s a difficult role simply in the amount of lines and stage time; add striking the perfect balance between world-weary war correspondent and sensitive woman and an actor has quite a challenge. Hawkins is attractive without being frilly, opinionated without being obnoxious, and completely believable as a former reporter and Yale academic. In her opening scene, I wasn’t quite convinced that she was an ideal Nadia. She seemed a little focused on the facade of a professor without the zeal or conviction. As it turned out, she was just warming to her topic. She is an extremely layered character, first calmly discussing her experiences and views and then building to her frustrations, passions, foibles. Hawkins’ background in film showed clearly in the nuance and subtlety she gave to this role. There was a raw edginess to her performance the suited Nadia beautifully.

Brett Estey was exceptional as Nadia’s boyfriend, Philip. As a successful physical therapist, he still lives in his physician father’s shadow and as a result of their turbulent past holds a lot of unresolved anger. Estey embodied a proper Brit in his bearing and accent, but also allows his character’s ten years in America to influence his movement and expression. He brought a great deal of sensitivity to the role. He also had an innate ability to be an integral part of the scene even when not directly involved in the conversations between Nadia & Oliver. He seemed as on the edge of his seat as the rest of the audience, eager to hear the outcome of the meeting of the minds.

The strongest performance of the afternoon comes from Mark O’Brien. He portrayed Philip’s estranged father Oliver, a general practitioner who has left the city lights of London to enjoy the quiet country scene of Wales. Every move that O’Brien makes further establishes his character. He is charming while articulate, reserved yet blithe, and always remarkably self aware. He makes no apologies for who he is and why he does the things he does. He postures, and has a way of getting under the skin with irritating accuracy, and yet he creates a sympathetic figure where one might not easily exist. The dynamic between the three characters is extraordinary. True relationships have been created here, never satisfied to skim the surface but always delving deep within their own heart and psyches.

Sophia Medley makes her cameo as Terri at the end of the show memorable as well as touching.

Bravo to Cedar Lane Stage for choosing a difficult piece of theatre. It’s easy to do a Tennessee Williams or an Arthur Miller. Not easy to do well, but less complicated to cast and definitely easier to find an audience. This drama is painfully honest about the war, politics, and the human relationship, but manages to present two very different points of view. It’s something that should be seen, especially in this highly political time, regardless of your beliefs. There are four performances remaining, including a talk back with the cast & crew after Thursday night’s (10/23) performance. Please don’t miss out on an opportunity to see a masterfully crafted show. Please go to www.cedarlanestage.org for more information.

Reviewed: October 19, 2008

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