Spooky Action Theater The Wedding DressBy David Siegel • Feb 18th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Spooky Action Theater: (Info) (Web)
Spooky Action Theater, Washington DC
Through March 9th
90 minutes without intermission
Reviewed February 16th, 2014
We are in Rio. It is 1943. A pretty twenty-five year old named Alaíde is run over by a car right before our eyes. Was it an accident? Or was it planned? From a hospital bed we hear, “Why am I here?” Or so we think. The Wedding Dress by Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues has begun its feisty, fertile, hallucinatory trip into the mind as Alaide lays dying before us.
Immediately we are an unstable roller coaster ride into madness. It is what playwright Rodrigues has planned. Quickly we become hooked into staying with this perverse, surreal, expressionistic romp. The Wedding Dress becomes and sustains itself as a frontal attack on repressive, straight-laced society where all wear constricting public masks to conceal their private desires. All aboard! No seat belts allowed!
The Wedding Dress was first produced in Brazil in 1943. This Spooky Action production, under the direction of Rebecca Holderness, is its introduction to a wider audience here in the DC area.
In her program notes, director Holderness called The Wedding Dress a “journey down a rabbit hole.” She further wrote, “madness can bring with it a certain freedom….Sane can seem rather bland in a repressive society. Madness can seem sexy, prophetic or visionary.” Under Holderness’ sharp, confident direction, this Rodriques work, as translated from the Portuguese by Jeffe Rodriques, has us leaning forward in anticipation of what comes next in its 90 minute, intermission free trip.
The Wedding Dress is built upon interlocking stories of reality, memory and hallucinations that include communications with corpses. It is narrated by two women. There is the dying Alaide who has lost consciousness. We learn she is married, but unhappily, to husband Pedro. She has a sister named Luscia with whom she has a strained relationship. Seems as if they both wanted to be with Pedro. In her unconscious state, Alaide’s memories, dreams and mental detritus spill out to the audience. She is far from the conventional married woman we first thought. We learn of her fascination with the unconventional life style of a brothel owner named Madame Clessi who died decades before.
Alaide is played by a robust, forceful Mundy Spears who is ever so cool with her batting-eye tease and flirt routine. Well, at least, when she is not on a hospital gurney. Often enough she has a “why me?” type attitude. Her sister Luscia is played by the petite Tuyet Thi Pham who shows venom galore with words that are hisses, and an arch look of a cool powerful Dominatrix. Husband Pedro is Randolph Curtis Rand. He is a man who loves too easily in a performance as a manipulated, submissive who seems never to get the kiss he is promised. Then his frustrations explode. Madame Clessi, the stately Dane Figueroa Edidi, has a deep presence and stately carriage as she narrates. Yet when she is with her 17-year-old lover, she has a sweet vulnerability with her manipulations. It will cost her. Her young, hot-headed lover is played with a wide-eyed, naturalistic air by Rafael Sebastian Medina.
Some lines from The Wedding Dress project its sweet stiletto venom. Each cuttingly delivered.
Consider this: “I am not afraid of being crazy” is a line acted out throughout the drama, but less rarely spoken. But the words are spit out by husband Pedro through gritted teeth. At the time he has his hands tightly wrapped around the neck of lover Luscia. Has he been goaded into such a retaliatory action? Yow!
Or this from Lucia to her sister Alaide; “You stole by boyfriend, I am going to steal your husband.” And Alaide’s snap retort, “If you do, I will haunt you the rest of your life.” Whoa!
Or this bon-mot from Alaíde as a young wife in a fever dream, thinking of killing her husband. When asked why, her response is “Why kill him? I was nauseated by his kindness.” Bam!
Performing in the black box setting of Spooky Action, is an ensemble of actors in less featured roles. They play overbearing mothers, unconnected father, callous doctors, by-line driven journalists, sensual prostitutes and sad-eyed mourners. They appear and move about and speak deliberately often as an understated sly, subtle backdrop texture. The well-functioning ensemble of supporting actors include: Frank Britten, Michael Kevin Darnall, Stefanie Garcia, Aniko Olah, and Sue Struve.
The technical details of The Wedding Dress are well done. With a set design by Vicki Davis, lighting by Maja White and sound and projections design by David Crandall, the initial view is of a small cramped stage with a white, gauzy, translucent curtain used as a projection screen. A projection of 1940’s cars are moving toward the audience. There is a screech, a scream and then the curtain is moved to show a deep, deep stage setting strewn with the detractions of an unraveling mind. There are about ten pipes at center stage like the ganglia of the mind. Around the set are several mannequins and movable set pieces including a fabricated old-style tri-pod camera. Actors in freeze positions are often props until awakened into action by Alaide’s thoughts. The actors hide about the stage like when, for some of us, we know the name of someone, but just can’t find it in our brains for a moment.
Costumes from Erik Teague give a visual taste of the early 20th century with woman in stiff, low bodice, black brocades with bright crimson flower designs. As Adaile’s mind shifts back to the 1940’s all the characters, except for Madame Clessi, are attired in more modern outfits. There are plenty of white linen suits, dark mourning attire, and two virginally pure white satin wedding dresses.
Ready for something unknown? Ready for an adventure? Ready to get out of the house now that the Olympics are winding down? This just might be it. And it will introduce you to a playwright who characterized his own work as “the theatre of the unpleasant” with works with such eye-popping titles as Lady of the Drowned, All Nudity Shall be Punished and The Deceased Woman.
I can’t say why, but the mind of this Baby Boomer reviewer drifted back after the performance to Allen Ginsberg’s masterpiece long poem “Howl” with its opening line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” Or perhaps Jean Genet, “Our Lady of the Flowers.” Or some of the wilder episodes of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”
The Wedding Dress is no stiff drawing-room drama of stilted, ritual manners. It is a tasty, stylish mogul ski run over some tricky terrain. You won’t be let down; the unexpected bumps are lots of the fun.
Note: The Wedding Dress is part of the Nelson Rodrigues Festival developed by Spooky Action Theater with Roberta Alves the Festival Coordinator. It is funded in part by the Brazilian Government, Embassy of Brazil in Washington, DC. And remember the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Brazil.
Photos by Franc Rosario
- Alaide: Mundy Spears
- Pedro: Randolph Curtis Rand
- Madame Clessi: Dane Figueroa Edidi
- Veiled Lady/Luscia: Tuyet Thi Pham
- Pimenta, Doctor: Michael Kevin Darnall
- Father, Doctor: Frank Britton
- Prostitute, Doctor, Accident Witness: Stefanie Garcia
- Clessi’s Lover: Rafael Sebastian Medina
- Prostitute/Laura: Aniko Olah
- Mother, Daily News City Desk: Sue Struve
Production and Design Team
- Director: Rebecca Holderness
- Assistant to the Director: Kristy Simmons
- Dramturg and Projection Design: Fly Steffens
- Set Design: Vicki Davis
- Lighting Design,: Maja White
- Sound Design and Projection Design: David Crandall
- Costume Design: Erik Teague
- Properties Design: Kirsten Pilgrim
- Katie Wertz Scene Artist
- Alicia Sells Stage Manager
- Technical Director: Robert Garner
- Erika Foley Asst Stage Manager
- Master Carpenter: Jose Abraham
- Brazilian Culture Consultant: Roberta Alves
- Board Operator: Christina Giles
- Projection camera Fabrication: Phil Charlwood
Disclaimer: Spooky Action Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10154.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.