Outside Looking In
By Faithful Friar
Sometimes it’s funny to be on the outside looking in. For several years now – ever since overlapping events left no one else to ask – I have been privileged to participate in a succession of Elements Theatre Company productions, either at home in Paraclete House at the Community of Jesus or on the road to points between Boston, New York and Philadelphia. But here I was last week filing in to the audience for a summer theater performance of 3 dramatic monologues written by Alan Bennett for his “Talking Heads” BBC series some years ago. Totally unfamiliar with this material and contributing virtually nothing toward the set, stage, technicals or properties as I usually do (not to mention costumes, makeup, publicity, catering, directing or acting!), here I was on the outside looking in.
And what a spectacle it was! The best analogy I can make is that of the pleasure and enjoyment one might experience of a fine Tuscan dinner. In fact “delicious” is the adjective that came first about the experience in that theater. The stage was set with comfortable house lighting and welcoming string-based background music. The stage itself was open, fairly vertical, composed of 3 or 4 playing areas sectioned off with bright spare metal work. The opening monologue – prima piatti – was a hot risotto, rich and flavorful, accompanied by a light white wine: the character of a clever but somewhat bewildered elderly son who reveals more than even he can understand about both himself and his mother in the recounting of recent events. Delivered with nuanced expression in proper British RP (received pronunciation), one could savor the complex signals of a close (closed?) family relationship as it becomes tested.
The secunda piatti was a more complex, brooding and spare piece, yet complete and totally satisfying in its parts. It could have been a serving of wild boar or sausage prepared following ancient methods, with a mouth-watering polenta and 2 or 3 local vegetables fresh-cooked and savory, all imbued with a fiery mystery by a fine Chianti red. This one told by a younger woman from within the confines of social strictures and crisis of faith subsumed in the ancient wrestle of marital relations and self-remedies of ironic humor, alcohol and sex. Heady fare, affairs of the heart.
So on to the final piatti, the Dolce. A word that comes out it English as “sweet” – appropriate enough in its confectionary capacity. But the sheer effervescence of Italian desserts and of this closing monologue transform each from saccharine to sanguine and give each an inner glow quite beyond their subject matter. The ices, gelati, sweet lemons and creams could all stack up against this well-meaning but impulsive letter-writing maven who makes enough public nuisance that she lands herself in jail. Then without changing a beat (other than a lightning-quick costume change) she transforms herself into a loving, affectionate friend to all her new sisters in the cell- block. The whole thing is so joyfully and limpidly creative. And it wraps up a production whose lighting, sound, movement and text – both spoken and subliminally expressed – are “just so”. Dolce!
So please join me in a toast of sparkling prosecco to this wonderful theatrical feast. May there be many more to follow (with or without my help)!