What do you get when you put three top notch actors and one accomplished director in the confines of an intimate fifty seat Black Box theatre, give them Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song and let them have a go at it?
If the actors are Jessica John, Mike Sears and Francis Gercke and the director is Lisa Berger you get a polished and stunning, up close and personal production of a never before seen in San Diego staging of what some will call a gutsy and dark, Pinteresque first out of the box play.
Forty something Ned, Dale and Joy are neighbors. They live across from each other, ‘six feet apart’, in houses that face each other, look like each other but are the exact reverse inside. Their small suburban English neighborhood is partially built up while the rest looks like ‘you’re in the Dark Ages’
Joy(Jessica John) works, sometimes doubling her shifts to make extra money. Joy and Ned have been married a good ten years. From the sound of things, he cooks to please her tastes. Other than that, their conversation is about as empty as the underdeveloped land in their neighborhood.
Ned, (Mike Sears) is on a demolition team and wrecks building’s the town deems as obsolete. Now there is talk of razing a popular shopping center. ‘It’s obsolete. People want bigger and better… Let’s face it it’s a dead duck’.
‘By the way, have you seen my cufflinks”? Everything Ned holds dear seems to be disappearing; his stamp collection, a pocket watch, a set of old golf clubs, a box camera, an Edwardian pipe collection, a bronze bust of Aldous Huxley. ‘Everything’s disappearing from my house’. ‘My stuff, my things. The things I own. My stuff’.
Ned is spaced out and can’t sleep nor can he take drugs; he’s tested at random. He shows Dale clips on his TV of past demolition projects. In Ned’s world, everything from buildings to ‘stuff’ in his house to his marriage is disappearing before his eyes. The buffer zone he stands in when the explosions he sets off is closing in on him and he’s beside himself.
Gerck’s Dale serves as narrator in chief. Since he and his wife Lyn (whom we never see) are close friends it’s not unusual for Dale to visit Joy and Ned or, if Ned is away on business, Joy. Nor was it unusual for the two of them, while playing Scrabble one nigh, to have a tumble in Ned’s bed.
On the other hand, Dale’s friendship with Ned has the two on a physical fitness regime that has Ned working out, as he never had before. Some of the lighter moments between Dale and Ned come through these workouts and the intensity of concentration Ned shows.
Ned, in trying to emulate Dale nearly collapses during his workouts but most telling are the Rogaine pills to stimulate hair growth on Ned’s baldhead. He wants to be like Dale. ‘Oh Ned. But you’re bald…On our first date you were bald’.
As with Pinter, the timing in Parlour Song is everything. Credit all three actors for their meticulous pacing and intense concentration. Sears is simply outstanding as the befuddled demolisher trying to get his footing and save himself and then possibly his marriage. His performance is nothing less than award winning.
In a heartbreaking moment Ned tells Dale of a night his wife made passionate love to him in her sleep, ‘sweating, panting. She held me to her …she croaked out one single word, She said it once. A name…it wasn’t my name’. ‘I didn’t hear it. I felt it …Here on my cheek. All I knew, for sure, was that it didn’t belong to me’. It was a crushing scene.
As his counterpart John’s Joy camouflages her misery by retreating into herself and becoming less interested in Ned as seen in the beginning when Ned tries to coax her out of the doldrums by talking, of all things, gravy and chicken legs. But when she describes her purchasing all the lemons in the market to make lemonade and then dumping it out because it was too sweet, there is a sensual and sexual appeal in her confession.
Mr. Gercke is on target and focused personifying the bankruptcy of the two lives in front of him much to the detriment of his own. His performance, as central to the story, gives him the platform to excel as Dale.
I would be remiss if I failed to sing kudos to director Lisa Berg whose understanding of Butterworth’s work does not go unnoticed. No easy fete this; her actors do her justice and vice versa.
Michael McKeon’s realistic set along with Peet Cocke’s lighting (and projections) design are perfect from beginning to end. Jessica John Gercke designed the costumes that reflect the times and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design in play most of the evening, gave us a hint of the explosive nature of the lonely heart.
‘And suddenly there is another door. One you’ve never seen before. Do you walk through it?” Jez Butterworth.
Supporting local and small theatre is the best gift of all. This company is definitely on the radar and worthy of your patronage.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept 6th
Organization: Backyard Renaissance
Production Type: Drama
Where: Ion Theatre, 3704 6th Avenue, San Diego 92103
Ticket Prices: Range from $10.00-$24.00
Venue: BLkBOX @Ion