BWW Reviews: Synetic Theater's THREE MEN IN A BOAT (TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG) Offers Timeless Insights Into Traveling
Before there was Trip Advisor or AAA, those wishing to travel the Thames River could consult Jerome K. Jerome's 1889 novella Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). What began as a serious travel guide soon evolved into a humorous account of three men on a boating trip. Luckily for theatergoers, playwright Derek Goldman has splendidly adapted Jerome's story to the stage. Synetic Theater's Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is an ingeniously witty exploration of the trials and tribulations of traveling all told through the exploits of three men and their dog cruising the Thames.
As you can tell, Three Men in a Boat does not contain the most complex plot. What makes the story endearing are its timeless observations of travel on the human psyche. Despite travel becoming more attainable and far-reaching in the 125 years since Jerome's story was first published, Three Men in a Boat continues to have resounding relevance.
Goldman's script retains Jerome's original setup. After misdiagnosing themselves with an endless array of illnesses, Jerome (Tom Story), George (Tim Getman) and Harris (Rob Jansen) have decided to escape the city by renting a boat and taking an excursion on the Thames River. Comparable to anyone who's ever gone on holiday, we follow them as they struggle with the frustrations of going away. Did they pack the toothbrush? What happens if the weather forecast is wrong? How do they deal with each other after sailing for several days in tight quarters? Adding to the hilarity is the decision by the men to bring along their dog Montmorency who has a personality as distinct as the men he's accompanying.
As the show's narrator, the performance of Jerome is central to the success of the play. Three Men in a Boat's humor comes from his observations. Story masters the role with a performance that is part-indifference, part-chieftain and all-together downright funny! His Jerome almost never questions himself or his motives, only those of everyone and thing around him.
Story's deliverance of Jerome's observation are comedic gold! Early in the play, Story's Jerome convinces himself that he's suffering from a range of diseases. After a trip to the British Museum, Jerome's narrowed those diseases to include gout and rheumatic fever. Listening to his rationale and after hearing him read the symptoms, anyone who's ever used WebMD to diagnose themselves with a common cold can certainly relate. It's scenes like these which make Three Men in a Boat a riot!
Alex Mills has the unique challenge of playing Jerome's dog Montmorency and rises to the occasion. He gives Montmorency a personality that is rich, making the pup seem just like one of the guys. By using different vocal inflections while barking and bold physical gestures Mills is able to bring Montmorency to life. Montmorency cannot talk, but we know exactly what he's thinking! Mills also portrays several of the plays minor characters and the fact that no two characters, or canines, appear alike is a credit to his performance!
Getman and Jansen are terrific as Story's comic foils George and Harris. Getman has given George an almost absentminded, jovial quality about him. In contrast Jensen's Harris has the appearance of being the most masculine, somewhat-serious man of the group. Nevertheless, it's hysterical how they tend to follow the lead of Story's Jerome all while he's following them.
Sailing the Thames provides the men with a lot of time together without much to do except enjoy the scenery and each other. As a result, we see how each character reacts to every miniscule event they encounter. Whether that be George playing his tambourine, the men attempting to concoct Irish stew or Harris' preoccupation with the cemeteries of England. Watching this ensemble is a joy because they are able to build off each other without one ever overpowering the others.
Lisi Stoessel's set design is effective at making us feel the boat's cramped quarters. The play begins in Jerome's study which Stoessel has filled with fainting and lounge chairs, book cases, a small table and a silk screen. When the action shifts to the boat, she rearranges the furniture to fit the length of the stage, creating a rough outline of the boat. Further adding to the aquatic nature of Three Men in a Boat is a pool of water which surrounds the stage. Brittany DiLiberto's artful lighting design has the water reflect onto the stage adding to the play's ambiance.
Three Men in a Boat is a farce and Goldman, who also serves as director, is skilled at playing to that setup. He does this by building upon Stoessel's set design and not having the actors minimize their performances to fit the boat's scale. The men continue to use grand gestures on this tiny vessel, seeming to forget their surroundings all too excellent comedic effect.
Ivania Stack's costumes keep with the late-nineteenth century setting of the play. It's amusing to watch the men transform from Stack's beautiful suits to less formal attire as the play continues.
Finally, all of these productions aspects, lighting, set, costume designs and direction are spotlighted by Joshua Morgan's Music Direction. His incidental music adds to the mad-cap nature of the travelogue turned farce that is Three Men in a Boat.
What's amazing about Three Men in a Boat is that it showcases the range of Synetic Theater. Synetic has long had a reputation as one of DC's edgier, adventurous, and at-times, darker theater companies. Three Men in a Boat is none of those. At its core, the play is a comedy. Synetic has to be commended for its ability to present audiences with such wide-ranging productions that include: wordless Shakespeare plays, and light-hearted comedies as seen in the wonderful Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) plays through June 8th at Synetic Theater 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA. To purchase tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or purchase them online.