Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Feminist Comedy and Classic Albee


A Very Funny Feminist Revenge Comedy

By Skip Sheffield

Some think feminists are dour, humorless people. Not so Lauren Gunderson.
Lauren Gunderson is the playwright of “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” playing through Dec. 30 in its Florida premiere at the Arts Garage, 180 NE First Ave., Delray Beach.
“Bear” is a comedy about an abusive husband and his long-suffering wife, who has decided to suffer no more.
That woman is Nan (Niki Fridh), a northern Georgia housewife is fed up with the abuse and neglect of her loutish husband Kyle (David Nail). Kyle is a good ol’ boy Neanderthal who loves hunting and guzzling Busch beer. If he gets a little too much- which is often- he may just haul off and smack his poor wife.
The play opens with Kyle duct-taped to a La-Z-Boy chair, gagged and immobile. Nan announces she is going to leave his sorry self. Furthermore she is going to drag him to the back yard and cover him with venison steaks, which will presumably provoke him to be devoured, if not pursued, by a bear.
Nan is empowered by her new best friend Peaches, aka Sweetheart (Lindsey Forgey), an aspiring actress with a fondness for Shakespeare. There isn’t much call for Shakespeare in north Georgia, so sweetheart makes ends meet by stripping.
It is amusing to note that the play’s title is lifted from a famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” Sweetheart likes to quote The Bard in a thick Southern drawl.
More important to Nan is her devotion to and respect for America’s 39th President, Jimmy Carter, whom she quotes often.
The idea of Carter as muse is funny. He was one of America’s less successful Presidents, but at heart he is a highly-principled, morally upright man. This is in stark contrast to Kyle, who has no redeeming value. Why Nan would ever get involved with Kyle in the first place is puzzling, but as the playwright says, this is a “shocking, violent and silly” play.
It is also very funny under the guidance of director Louis Tyrrell and the well-chosen cast, which includes David Hemphill as Nan’s other best friend Simon Beaufort, a gay, cross-dressing character in a cheerleader’s outfit.
“Bear” races along in about 70 minutes sans intermission. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is very funny entertainment and a good addition to Arts Garage.
Shows are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30-$40. Call 561-450-6357.

“A Delicate Balance” at Palm Beach Dramaworks

On a more serious note, “A Delicate Balance,” runs through Jan. 9 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
I must confess I was a bit daunted at the prospect of a three-act play with two intermissions. However, the show fairly flew by under the direction of William Hayes. The cast is absolutely first-rate, befitting of the three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays by “America’s Shakespeare,” Edward Albee.
A lot of playwrights have written about dysfunctional families. Few have done so with the eloquence of Albee, who was inspired by some of his own history growing up as an adopted son of a wealthy family.
Agnes (Maureen Anderman) and Tobias (Dennis Creaghan) are a wealthy married couple living in a large Connecticut estate with servants and a permanent houseguest, Agnes’ sister Claire (Angie Radosh).
Claire is cheerfully, adamantly an alcoholic. The booze shields her from the harsher reality of her situation, but it has not dulled her rapier wit.
There is an ongoing tension and resentment in this domestic triangle, but the three characters have learned to live with it. The balance is upset with the unexpected entrance of the couple’s neurotic “best friends,” Edna (Laura Turnbull) and Harry (Rob Donohoe). The couple has been seized with some inexplicable terror that has driven them from their house, and in desperation they ask if they can seek refuge in the spare bedroom.
Ever the gracious hosts, Agnes and Tobias reluctantly agree to the intrusion, but the balance is upset further with the arrival of the couple’s daughter Julia (Anne Bates), who has come home to mommy and daddy after the crumbling of her fourth marriage. The tensions that simmered in Act One quickly and forcibly come to a boil as Julia freaks out about the interlopers in her room.
“A Delicate Balance” asks some very big questions. How much can one partner forgive the other in a marriage? How long must a parent care, nurture and forgive a grown child? What responsibility does a friend have for a best friend? How long can one sibling tolerate the misbehavior of another?
Maureen Anderman is a specialist in the work of Albee and she is the very picture of a wealthy, upper-class society matron: cool and polished on the outside; raging on the inside.
Dennis Creaghan is suave and debonair as Tobias, but not without guilt, weakness and doubt. Angie Radosh is a master comedian who makes her character’s reprehensible behavior amusing rather than repulsive.
Anne Bates has the toughest job of all making her immature, clingy daughter sympathetic, but rest assured all characters have his or her moment to state their case, and with this cast’s skill, we care.
Tickets are $55 and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042.
In conjunction with this production, a film documentary, “The Stages of Edward Albee,” will have its world premiere with three showings at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Jan. 8. Tickets are $10. Visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

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