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Hitler Never Had a Chance

Barbara & Scott go for Bloke, The Question W Revue, and Rich Kiamco in Unaccessorized at the Fringe Festival. logo
Donna Abraham, Katherine O'Sullivan, Annemarie Lawless,
and Ruth Kavanagh in Nora's Bloke
(Photo © Mark Rifkin)
You know how, in the movies, there are characters who haven't got a dime but somehow manage to live in apartments the size of battleships? That doesn't happen nearly so often in Off-Off Broadway plays. In Nora's Bloke by Mark Jenkins, which just concluded its run at the smaller of two stages at the Blue Heron Arts Center, 10 characters somehow manage to inhabit a space the size of a postage stamp that triples as a London flat, a bedroom in the countryside near London, and a fancy restaurant. Credit Leslie (Hoban) Blake, a TheaterMania contributor and the show's director, for this small miracle.

Miracles are very much what the play is about. During the London blitz, a young boy overheard words to the effect that defeating Hitler would be as nothing compared to finding a bloke for Nora, the local social outcast. As a grown man recalling his childhood, he now tells us how his mother and her two friends managed the latter feat. Before they get their chance, however, the play begins with a light shining on an old radio as an endless amount of exposition is broadcast via the BBC; it's a static start. Later, there is a distracting flaw in the action regarding a leap of time. But these are small issues in view of the genuine pleasures of the piece -- which, in fact, have little to do with the main plot. The best aspects of Nora's Bloke have to do with the poignant details of the lives that these women lead.

The young boy's mother, Cathy (Annemarie Lawless), has a husband in a German prisoner of war camp. Lonely, she reluctantly falls in love with a U.S. soldier stationed in London, who turns out to be much more of a soul mate than is the father of her child. What to do? Meanwhile, Molly (Katherine O'Sullivan) has a forbidden love of her own: An older woman who prefers to wear men's clothing, she quietly lives the life of a sexual outlaw. Then there is their rambunctious, free-speaking friend Diedre (Donna Abraham) who may be the most common of the three of them but who has the energy to keep their lives spinning and their spirits up.

It's been said that 90 percent of effective direction is in the casting. Leslie (Hoban) Blake scores high marks here, as well. The strong ensemble is led by Lawless, who is all vulnerability wrapped in delicate beauty; this prodcution marked her New York stage debut, and she's a gem. Abraham is vivacious, and she can throw away a comic line with a naturalistic flair. The veteran O'Sullivan anchors this threesome and gives a certain authority to their friendship. Among the other supporting players, Robert Yarnall is perfection as the bloke of the title; Ruth Kavanagh is a much better looking Nora than the play would have us believe but, in truth, the piece isn't really about her.

There is a wistful melancholy in this memory play but it's coupled with a refreshing, even blunt honesty about the limitations of these women's lives. This Bloke was very much worth meeting.


Perfect Comic Timing

The summer's oft-extended political parody The Question W Revue has two more scheduled performances, both of them during the Republican Convention. Talk about comic timing! Written by Jeff Matson, directed by Jay Rogers, and starring capable caperers Joan Crowe, Sue Matsuki, Miles Phillips, and Rob Langeder, this unabashed Bush-bash again sticks it to our fearless leader at the Duplex on Tuesday, August 31 at 7pm and Wednesday, September 1 at 9:30pm.

With a show such as this, one generally expects an attack that's light on wit and heavy-handed in every other respect. Happily, that's not the case here. While the gloves are certainly off, The Question W Revue makes a real attempt (mostly successful) to subsume its messages in clever entertainment. Not every joke works and not every song is worthy of Tom Lehrer, but the show is great fun (if you're not a right-wing Republican).

The cast is fully committed and their performances are well polished. The one entertainer we didn't previously know, Rob Langeder, impressed us mightily with his musical theater chops and natural delivery. Jay Rogers has directed the show with the same kind of comic relish that he provided as an actor when he sang the three best political humor numbers in When Pigs Fly. However, the ultimate star here is Jeff Matson, who has written some very clever stuff. In the end, The Question W Revue probably isn't going to change anyone's mind about Mr. Bush, but it might very well have the salutary effect of getting some people to vote who might otherwise sit on their hands on election day. And, at the very least, the show fulfills its first obligation: it's highly entertaining.


Goodbye, Fringe...

The last thing we saw at the Fringe Festival was Rich Kiamco starring in a one-person show that he wrote, Unaccessorized. It was one of the best and certainly one of the most finely honed works we caught during the entire festival.

The story of a young gay Filipino's search for the triple crown of love, success, and fame (or at least acceptance), the play proved to be a wonderful showcase for Kiamco's quicksilver talents. The author/star was aided and abetted by TheaterMania's own Dan Bacalzo's smart and sophisticated direction. This Fringe offering was far better that most one-person shows you'll find produced in commercial venues; Unaccessorized deserves to be plucked from the festival for a regular run at a small theater.


[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at [email protected].]

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