BWW Review: THE DRESSER Wraps You in Co-Dependency at Birmingham Festival Theatre
It is a common occurrence for an actor to get a feeling or vibe when backstage at an old theater. It's a feeling of familiarity, a connection, a sense of being home. My previous acting teacher once told me "That sensation you get are the whispers of those that graced the stage before you." Actors put their heart, soul and emotion into a performance, well at least the good ones do. These concentrations of performances create an energy that actors tap into if she or he is receptive to it. The most passionate actors bring thunder and tears. The wear and tear is not just on the body but it is also on the mind. This thespian breakdown is found in writer Ronald Harwood play The Dresser now playing at Birmingham Festival Theatre. Set in WWII, the story is about the tail end of an illustrious career of one of the biggest actors in Shakespeare aptly named Sir (Jack Cannon) and Norman (Judd McCluney), Sir's personal assistant. The play is inspired by Harwood's real life experiences working as a dresser for Shakespearean actor Sir Donald Wolfit. Sir is has an impressive history of roles and years performing under his regal King Lear robe. The decades on the road however have been hard in his personal and professional life. It has been made easier with the doting servitude of Norman . His devotion to Sir is built upon many levels. He adores Sir, even though he treats him like a second rate Sancho.
The play opens with Sir in the throws of dire panic in his trepidation performing King Lear. This marks his over two hundredth time in the role. Alas, he can't remember the lines and is unwilling to perform. His costar Her Ladyship (Beth Kitchin) and stage manager Madge (Penny Thomas) are loosing faith that he will be able to perform. Norman's faith in Sir holds firm for he is more determined to get Sir on the stage than Sir himself. The Co-dependent relationship is explored with some expressive and heartfelt dialogue. The theater in London is near the fighting. The air raid sirens give warning of the planes above, and also as a metaphor of Sir's failing mental stability. He becomes reflective and reactive to the relationships with all his fellow players. Her Ladyship and Madge have very touching moments where the feelings are exposed. Norman is finally forced to face the cause and effect of his unceasing devotion to Sir.
Director Bethe Ensey delivers a skilled cast able to give equal intensity of comedy and drama. Cannon, McCluney, Thomas and Kitchin bring much focused character work and emotion to their roles. The cast is rounded out with Irene (Kat Love), Geoffrey (Bob Penny) and Oxenby (H.Mitchell Nash). Highlights in the show are found with Sir's struggle to remember an entrance, actor's having personality conflicts and the ritualistic reaction of theater people when someone dares to speak the name of the "Scottish tragedy play" in a theater.
The complexity of the relationships unravels as each scene plays out. The plot as becomes a bit clunky at times as repetitive beats of Sir phasing in and out of a rational state of mind. I see where Harwood was going to show Sir's mentally ailing condition but it could have been gotten to sooner in the story with the same result. The Dresser is touching play that shows how funny and tragic co-dependency can be.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown
Birmingham Festival Theatre
Directed by Bethe Ensey
Nov 2 - 18 Thurs/Fri/Sat 8PM (Sunday Matinee Nov 12 2PM)
Tickets :$25 (Student rate with valid student ID $10)
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
Tickets and info at (205) 933-2383 or www.bftonline.org
Photo credit: Steven Ross