Lawrence and Marguerite

Throughout history, a myriad of literary texts have evoked the conflict imposed upon spirits coming to terms with their existence in the afterlife. From Hamlet’s father coming back to avenge his untimely death to Bruce Willis coming to terms with his own demise in a recent blockbuster, writers have provided us with numerous examples of conflict and resolution from the hereafter. Catherine Ann Dutko’s Lawrence and Marguerite at the Court Theater attempts to be a romantic comedy in this vein; but, despite good work from a strong cast of actors, the show unfortunately misses the mark.

Two ghosts of the 18th century, Lawrence (played by Loren Bass) and Marguerite (played by Dutko), reside in an abandoned castle in New England. Apparently, they cannot leave the castle; they are stuck there for unexplained reasons, with nothing to do but bicker over a Sears catalog from 1973. Their actions are monitored by some universal force that punishes them with loud noise when they begin to discuss certain taboo subjects–namely, the events and emotions surrounding their deaths.

Finally, another couple arrives: Phillip (Michael Dempsey) and Carissa (Robin Middleton), who have bought the castle sight unseen without knowing that it lacks plumbing or electricity. They are accompanied by their handyman, Simon (Michael Santorico), who immediately begins renovations. Lawrence and Marguerite decide how they will go about presenting themselves to the castle’s new inhabitants. (The program notes explain that they are only allowed to show themselves to one person each for all of eternity, but nothing in the play confirms this or explains why such an unusual guideline would be placed upon a ghost.)

Havoc ensues as Lawrence and Marguerite begin to explore the various modern amenities brought in by their new roommates, with televisions and stereos blaring in the middle of the night, items strewn about, etc. The ghosts are inordinately strong and resilient physically, with the ability to lift extremely heavy objects easily. The living couple must suffer from severe myopia, as they are blind to these unexplained events–for example, a beer bottle being consumed in mid air. In fact, little is done to clarify the different capabilities of the living and the dead. If Lawrence and Marguerite can open the door, why can’t they leave? The play attempts to provide us with a metaphor for moving beyond our fears and self-imposed limitations; however, the plot is so laden with holes that we are left to wonder what the point is.

The performances are good all around, especially that of Middleton. Most of the show’s problems lie in the text itself. Specifically, the metaphor laid forth by the apparitions is not mirrored in the experiences of the living, making Dutko’s intentions vague at best. The author’s use of language is strong, with a clear juxtaposition between the 18th century and modern day characters. Unfortunately, the ghosts’ dialogue is often heavy handed, making it easy to miss major plot points, which mostly come in one fell swoop at the end of the play.

The direction of Dana Marley-Kolb (The Beggar’s Opera and As You Like It, both at PSC) could have been tighter, and the running time of the play should have been drastically reduced; a lot of the text is extraneous, the physical comedy heavy handed and unconvincing. The choice to delineate each scene change with a blackout gives the production a choppy effect and slows down its flow. Everyone seems to be trying his best in a play that’s nicely sketched, but not fleshed out.

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