by DICK KEREKES
My New Year’s resolution for 2009 is to see and review theater at different high schools in the North Florida as my schedule permits. I got a jump start on this last weekend when I attended the final performance of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns Florida.
Since I saw a musical version of The Visit in Washington D.C. last summer, I have been suggesting to community theatres in this area to take a look at the non-musical script. It is a story that is very poignant in today’s world in my opinion. I welcomed the opportunity to see The Visit.
The play is about money and the greed it breeds. It concerns an older wealthy woman, who has married several times to very wealth men and out lived them. Claire Zachanassian returns to her home town of Guellen, which is going bankrupt since all its factories have closed. She makes an offer to the mayor and the citizens, of a million pounds to the city and the same to be divided among the citizens. What do they have to do for this? Murder one of their citizens, an elderly storeowner, Alfred (well acted by Lance Stephens, who used excellent makeup to successfully age him and make him believable). Why? Alfred was Claire’s lover 45 years ago, and he falsely testified in a paternity case that caused her to leave the town and turn to prostitution. As Claire accumulated her massive fortune, she took revenge on the men who were involved and coming back home the final step in her vengeance.
The town’s people refuse her offer, at first, but with the lure of money dangled before them, they begin to buy things and charging them and soon everyone in town is very much in debit. What happens? I think I will let you guess the ending of this fascinating bit of fiction. There is an l964 movie, with Anthony Quinn, though difficult to find.
When the playwright wrote this play in l956, he intended it as a dark comedy and Bartram’s theatre director Ava Fixel certainly achieved this judging from reaction of the largely student audience on closing night. She used a minimalist surrealistic visual approach with interesting set pieces by Michael Fixel. Wooden 3×3 boxes are used as steps, and chairs, a large dark factory looms in the back ground just behind railroad tracks on which Claire arrives. Her private automobile is a rickshaw that is peddled on by her driver (Jake Devaney).
Haley Cooper, Ashley Pincket, and Morgan Weyer, were a Greek chorus, dressed in black. Later they doubled back as townspeople. Two of the men who testified falsely at the trial, Koby and Loby, were combined into one person who has been blinded and disabled by Clare’s vengeance. As played by Trey Lewek, he dressed and looked like a drugged out Michael Jackson. Daniel Perez played the schoolmaster, which was a major role as he tried to reason with the citizens to follow the moral path. Perez was very convincing while too falling under the spell of acquiring goods (like the yellow shoes everyone chooses to wear). While I liked the performance of Christopher Yeaple, as the Mayor, I felt he was a bit too eccentric in Act I, and more subdued and like a mayor concerned with his people in Act II.
Bartram junior, Elizabeth Eads played the leading role of Claire Zachanassian. Rather than trying to age her to her 60 or 70, she is seen much as she would have looked when the incident occurred that caused her to leave town. With the exception, she now wears expensive clothing and changes outfits frequently and smokes cigars. In the story Claire has an artificial left leg but the audience had to imagine that. Miss Eads was very good and convincing as a woman who used her wealth to control others.
Costumer Aridai Rivera and cordinator Julian Fajardo did an excellent job with limited resources to give us a foreign look to the wardrobes of the large cast.
Also in this cast were Sarah Jordan (nun), Jamie Jones (Alfred’s wife), Dan Alexander (Boby, Claire’s assistant), Matthew Thompkins (several of the husbands), Randal Estevez (Bailiff), Carla Noriega (Station Master), Amanda Gomer (Alfred’s daughter) Luke Weidner (Alfred’s son) Rachel Perry (doctor), Christina Sill (Mayor’s wife), Cait May (Media Consultant) Alexis Gillis (Reporter) and Brandon Gillis (cameraman). Stage Manager-Jim Asp, Assistant Director -Melanie Johnson.
Bartram School hopes to take this production to the state completion in the spring. Also scheduled in April, is the musical South Pacific.
The members of ITS Troupe 6174, as the drama group is known, were certainly up to the challenge of this very difficult work. Thanks for a interesting and entertaining evening of theatre
by DICK KEREKES