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BWW Review: 2 BY STRINDBERG: THE STRONGER AND THE OUTCAST at Gamut Theatre Group

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BWW Review: 2 BY STRINDBERG: THE STRONGER AND THE OUTCAST at Gamut Theatre Group

"Gamut Theatre tells classic stories because we've found that even if a story was written hundreds of years ago, it can still resonate, still feel immediate, and urgent." This explanation, part of Gamut's anti-racism statement, serves to remind us that the very characters and stories that may make us squeamish today still hold value-they show us where we've been and where we can and should be better and do better for our world and for our fellow humans. By its very nature, art and literature are open to interpretation. As soon as the idea is out in the world, it is interpreted and reinterpreted by everyone who experiences it. In the case of theatre, plays are interpreted by directors, actors, and the audience. In tackling two of Strindberg's one act plays in "Two by Strindberg: The Stronger and The Outcast", Gamut Theatre brings to light the value in facing the worldviews that created those stories as well as the ways in which these stories can be interpreted in new ways. Indeed, in preparing The Stronger, Gamut actually produced two completely different interpretations by two different directors. The actors, Abby Carroll and Erin Shellenberger, switch characters for the two different versions. While most nights only one version will be presented, audiences who attend on the final day of performances on April 25th, will have the opportunity to see both versions.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg penned The Outcast and The Stronger in 1888-1889. As dramaturge Kim Greenawalt (who also directs on of the versions of The Stronger) notes, Strindberg's writing often focuses on the "hypocrisy of humanity." This is particularly evident in The Outcast. In his director's notes, Clark Nicholson comments, "on the surface, there were dynamics of moral discernment and ethical ambiguity. Still, the characters, particularly Mister X, were unlikeable to the point of not being able to empathize with them at all." One of the most notable parts of this performance of The Outcast is the staging. First, with respect to the set, the placement of an old set of scales framed in the upstage archway is a nice touch. Not only would the scales be something these men might use in their research and work, but they are also indicative of the themes in the play of right vs. wrong, forgiveness vs. punishment, and balance. Additionally, the actions of the actors on stage serve to highlight not only the surface of what the characters are saying but also their emotions and hidden meanings. For instance, Mr. X washes his hands and face multiple times during the exchange-perhaps trying to wash away his own feelings of guilt (though he claims to have none of those feelings).

Ross Carmichael and Lyeneal Griffin take on the roles of Mr. X and Mr. Y in The Outcast with earnestness. Their characters at first seem quite the opposite of one another, with Carmichael's Mr. X demonstrating a rather boisterous and straightforward personality and Griffin's Mr. Y coming across as more reserved and almost nervous. As the play progresses, however, and the faults and hypocrisies of both men come to light, their personalities take on more nuances until, in the end, it is difficult to decide who is the more noble, just, or righteous-if, in fact, either of them is. When the thief cannot murder and the murderer cannot steal, morality becomes quite murky. Carmichael and Griffin, under the direction of Nicholson, put together a strong and engaging performance as they explore these ideas.

Both versions of The Stronger are placed in modern times, as demonstrated by the costumes and props, and both feature the same actors-Erin Shellenberger and Abby Carroll. However, it is there that the similarities end. The interpretations of this play presented by directors Kim Greenawalt and Francesca Amendolia are equally intriguing and stirring, while approaching the script from two very different angles. On the surface, this play asks the audience to consider which character-Mrs. X or Mrs. Y-is stronger. Both interpretations of this play presented at Gamut dive deeper than this question-giving audiences space to ask complex questions about communication and relationships. Amendolia and Greenawalt both used the space and the movement of their actors to emphasize different aspects of the relationships between the women. From the very beginning, as they both open with no dialogue, the audience can feel the unique type of tension that exists in both interpretations based on how the actors move and hold themselves.

Shellenberger and Carroll both shine in their roles in each version. It is not easy to play a part that has no actual lines, like the role of Mrs. Y, and both actors are able to use their facial expressions and body language so that Mrs. Y is speaking volumes throughout the show even though she barely makes a sound. Mrs. X is an equally challenging role, requiring the actor not only to remember a 20-minute monologue, but also to deliver those lines as a dialogue with a character that never speaks. Carroll and Shellenberger are definitely up to the challenge of both of these roles. Perhaps even more impressive is their ability to play these roles in two very different interpretations of the script. While some audience members may be drawn more to one interpretation over the other, there is no question that the actors are stellar in both versions.

Director Kim Greenawalt comments, "at the very least, all I can hope for is that an audience talks about what they saw, or at most leaves with the desire to be better humans and communicators than the characters." 2 By Strindberg, featuring The Outcast and The Stronger at Gamut Theatre certainly accomplishes this goal. Get your tickets to see their first live production since the fall. The show will be running from April 9-April 25, and this reviewer highly recommends trying to see both versions of The Stronger if you can. Tickets are pick your own price, and safety protocols are being rigorously followed. Visit www.gamuttheatre.org for information on protocols and how to purchase your tickets.


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From This Author Andrea Stephenson