Friday, August 21, 2009

Review - Maddy: A Modern Day Medea and The Swan Song (Redd Tale Theatre Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos courtesy of

Medea in a trailer park. Among certain theatre-going crowds, this phrase alone would elicit a negative reaction akin to saying Romeo and Juliet in space or a musical comedy version of Oedipus. And yet, playwright Will Le Vasseur's one-act Maddy: A Modern Day Medea is so much more than that dismissive phrase implies.

Le Vasseur has stayed remarkably true to the original. Maddy (Lynn Kenny) is an outsider, brought to this Southern trailer park by her love for Billy-Jay (Blaine Pennington). For seven years they've lived together, raising children and having a good, though poor life. But Billy-Jay wants better for his children (and himself). He leaves Maddy to marry the porcine daughter of a wealthy businessman, Cleetus (Ben Strothmann). He promises to care for Maddy, but he wants the kids to live with him.

Stripped of her husband, children, and thanks to Cleetus' interference, her home, Maddy has no idea what to do next. But this is only part of her problem. Where Medea was a sorceress, Maddy is something even more supernatural. To explain more would give away too much of Le Vasseur's clever plot. Suffice it to say, she is a force to be reckoned with. The play ends, as the original does, with the death of the new bride and the children. But the reason for the deaths of these characters (and a lot of other people) is different. While Maddy's crime is great, it is no longer as vindictive as Medea's, and this adds an interesting new twist to the classic tale. Billy-Jay lives, but he learns that there are some forces of nature not to be toyed with.

Le Vasseur wears many hats in this production. In addition to writing and directing, he designed the set. Maddy's trailer is spot on (even given the budget constraints that most Off-Off Broadway companies face), from the sad looking patio to the planter made from an old toilet. The production makes good use of sound and effects. Taped dialogue between Flo (Heather Shields), Maddy's only friend in the park, and Edna (Rainbow Dickerson), the local busybody, is used to advance the plot, to show how looked down upon Maddy is, and give a sense of the claustrophobic nature of this park. Everyone can hear everyone else, and privacy is a luxury few have. Another clever element of the show is the use of fans that blow on the audience during a particularly bad storm. This small touch helps incorporate the audience into the show, and, along with a taped newscast, covers a scene change.

Lynn Kenny shines as the other-worldly Maddy. At first stilted delivery is disconcerting, but as we learn more about Maddy's background, it makes perfect sense for her character. Heather Shields shines as the earthy and sympathetic Flo. Blaine Pennington does a good job as the handsome and charming Billy-Jay. It's easy to see why Maddy would fall for him, but just as easy to see why he would leave. Ben Strothmann does well as the father of Billy-Jay's new bride. And as the mysterious Alan, about whom little can be said without giving away some interesting plot twists, James Stewart acquits himself well, though given the character's sangfroid, a little more vocal range could add a bit of interest to what is, by necessity, a rather cold delivery.

The second play of the evening is a short one-act by Anton Chekhov, The Swan Song. Vasili (Will Le Vasseur), an aging clown, awakens from a drunken stupor to find himself locked in his dark, empty theatre. The darkness turns his gaze inward as he examines lost time, lost loves, and lost opportunities. With Nikita (Ben Strothmann), the company's prompter, watching and helping him, he attempts to regain some of the fire and talent of his youth. The play is wonderfully acted by both Strothmann and Le Vasseur. Le Vasseur in particular excels playing a character who is easily more than double his age, no small feat from an actor still in his 20s.

This short play, written rather surprisingly in Chekhov's youth (he was about Le Vasseur's age when he wrote it), is a marvellous find.

Though different in theme and style, Maddy: A Modern Day Medea and The Swan Song make for an entertaining evening of theatre.

Maddy: A Modern Day Medea
Written and directed by Will Le Vasseur
Adapted from Euripedes' Medea

Featuring: Lynn Kenny (Maddy), Blaine Pennington (Billy-Jay), Heather Shields (Flo), James Stewart (Alan), Ben Strothmann (Cleetus), Rainbow Dickerson (Edna), Will Le Vasseur (Newscaster)

The Swan Song
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Lynn Kenny

Featuring: Will Le Vasseur (Vasili Svietlovidoff), Ben Strothmann (Nikita Ivanitch)

Set Design: Will Le Vasseur
Stage Manager: Danny Morales
Poster Design: Graeme Offord
Sound Design & Recording: Matthew Pritchard
Production Photos & Website Design: Ben Strothmann
Set materials donated by Rebuilders Source
Artistic Director: Will Le Vasseur
Co-Artistic Director: James Stewart

Nicu's Spoon Theater
38 W. 38th Street, 5th Floor

Thursday-Saturday at 8 PM
Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM
Through August 29th

For information, visit the Redd Tale Theatre Company website.

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