BWW Review: GEORGE - DON'T DO THAT at MetroStage Honors British Comedienne Joyce Grenfell
The Women's Voices Theater Festival may be winding down in D.C. proper, but Alexandria's MetroStage is looking to keep the focus on female-centered stories with their Spring Solo Series. The second of these one-woman shows, George-Don't Do That: The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell, is a love-filled tribute to British comedienne Joyce Grenfell who became a global sensation in the mid-20th century thanks to her intellectual satire and good natured spirit. Despite clear adoration for the play's subject, the work doesn't properly explain who Ms. Grenfell is or why she became so famous, information which would be helpful for a modern American audience.
British actor Catherine Flye (MetroStage's Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush) stars as Ms. Grenfell in this tribute which she has been performing throughout the British Isles since 2003. It's surprising, then, that so much of this production feels incomplete. On many occasions, Ms. Flye referenced the script as she was performing and, while she did so in a way that kept her pacing natural, it happened enough to become a small distraction.
Unlike similar tribute one-person productions, George-Don't Do That doesn't concern itself with a straightforward plot. Instead, a Narrator (Michael Tolaydo, MetroStage's Heroes) provides information about Joyce Grenfell (which often sound straight from Wikipedia) before Ms. Flye interjects with a short skit. The vignettes are humorous but can create more questions for the audience. It was hard to decipher if the woman speaking was Joyce, one of Joyce's characters, or someone who had inspired a character.
Although the structure of Ms. Flye's tribute leaves something to be desired, her commitment to representing the truest form of Joyce Grenfell is a treat. Every action is sincere and propelled by an obvious gratitude for the happiness Ms. Grenfell's comedy spread. Fans of British comedies like The Office or Fawlty Towers will likely find the excerpts of Grenfell's routines gut-busting. With a lively audience, Ms. Flye has the ability to capitalize on the dry humor and keep the evening moving at a lively pace.
Perhaps the most winning contributor of the evening, however, is Joseph Walsh (MetroStage's Master Class) as the Music Director and on-stage pianist. He plays well and serves as a highly reactive participant from which Ms. Flye draws much energy. If anything, Mr. Walsh could have been utilized more to provide ambient background noise during some of the longer and slower vignettes.
Even with an excellent accompanist, most of the songs seem out of place. With so much satire laced in the musical verses, it is odd that Ms. Flye tries to sing with such technical precision. When performing a tune discussing how she loves to be her brothers' servant, for example, the tune's comedy is overshadowed by Ms. Flye's demure soprano. Rather than being an extension of the hilarious, these songs feel separate and break up the evening's momentum. With a two hour run time (surprisingly long for a one-woman show), it is important to make sure every minute is justified.
Such justification would assist in deciphering the reason behind keeping the Narrator as a character. For one brief moment in the second act, Joyce addresses the audience directly and discusses her life. It's a shame this only happened once, as it is a glimpse of the more personal show this tribute could have been if no Narrator were present. As part of a series celebrating work by women, about women, and starring women, it seemed out of place for a male Narrator to tell the bulk of Joyce's story.
George-Don't Do That makes less of a case for itself than it does for its home theater. The intimate black box space seems highly adaptable and helps immerse the audience thanks to our proximity. Plus, the seats are surprisingly comfortable. While this tribute for Joyce Grenfell isn't perfect, it shows enough promise to warrant a return trip to MetroStage for the conclusion of their Spring Solo Series in mid-April.
Runtime: two hours with one intermission.
George-Don't Do That runs through March 25 at MetroStage - 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets please call (703) 548-9044 or click here.
Photo Credit: Christopher Banks
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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