by DICK KEREKES
Would you like to take a theatre trip to London England this summer but find you are unable to because it is too expensive or you are worried about volcanic ash clouds? Well, you can take a two hour visit to jolly old England at Players by the Sea Studio Theatre on May 21 or 22, when you see their current production of Talking Heads. Call 249-0289 for reservations, no passport required.
Unless you are a real fan of PBS and watch Masterpiece Theatre, you may not be familiar with ‘Talking Heads”. British playwright Alan Bennett wrote a series of dramatic monologues for BBC television back in l988, which were repeated in l998. PBS eventually picked up a few of the episodes several years ago. In 2002 and 2003 some of the monologues were staged in Los Angeles and in New York.
Co-Directors Joe Schwarz and Samuel Fisher have taken four of the monologues for their version of Talking Heads , and creatively broken each into 4 or 5 parts and interweaved the stories, so they essentially start at the same time and finish at the same time. It makes them much more interesting for the audience as we waited for the next installment of each of the stories the four women presented.
Before I give you a bit of the plot of each monologue it might be best to explain the staging. The set is spaced to show four different living areas, consisting of a chair and a table in two, a chair in a third and at the far right a lounging couch. Each of the 4 ladies comes on and off the stage and performs in their own individual space. Mr.Schwarz and Lee Hamby designed the unique set that includes a large blank wall in center stage on which different window scenes are projected for each of the ladies, as if they are looking out on to the public street.
The first interesting female, is the youngest, Lesley played by Staci Cobb in Her Big Chance. Lesley is an attractive actress who strives to be successful in films, after small roles on British television. She describes many of her quirky show business contacts, and seems unaware she is really doing a sort of pornographic film.
Simone Aden-Reid is the spinster Irene in A Lady of Letters. She is not afraid to speak her mind; well actually she writes her thoughts and complaints about many things to politicians, law enforcement, her pharmacy, etc,etc. Irene mails the caustic letters, every one of them and frequently replies to their replies. She is also a nosey busy body who watches what her neighbors do and keeps us, the audience, informed on her opinions. She winds up in prison where she finally finds happiness and true freedom.
Caroline Lee is Celia in Hand of God. She talks with us from her antique shop. She befriends the elderly so she can buy their treasured resources cheap if they are in financial need or die. In an O’Henry type twist to her story, she commits an interesting personal faux pas, that I will let you discover when you see the play.
Holly Gutshall is Doris in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee. A widow in her 80s, Doris is obsessed with being neat and tidy, and complains about the laxness of her occasional home maids cleaning abilities. She has fallen and cannot get up (reminded me of that TV commercial), and as she lies on the floor, she relates information about her husband who she may have nagged to death, and contemplates if she will wind up in a nursing home” where everyone smells like pee.” Again, an interesting conclusion that I will not reveal.
The four actresses cast by Mr. Schwarz and Mr. Fisher are among the most accomplished ladies of the stage in this area, and to list all their extensive credits and accomplishments would take this entire review. Each was up to the challenge of their very different roles and the acting is superlative.
The stories are in part bittersweet, heart breaking and often very funny, the way dry British humor can be. The scripts were exceptionally well written and this is the reason they have found a life on stages seeking something different.
I have two suggestions on this production. First, if you intended to see it, sit as close to the middle of the theatre as possible. The seats are general admission, so get there early and get a good one. Reason? Two of the actresses are at the far extremes of the stage, so if you sit at one end it is difficult to hear the actress at the far end very well. The English accents in my opinion are very good, but you have to hear them clearly for total understanding.
My second suggestion is for any theatre that does an Irish or English play. You have to provide a glossary of terms in the program, or at least have a printed sheet available. British English and American English have a number of words that are different, and the British certainly have as much slang as we do. My companion and I spent the intermission trying to figure what a spanner was? (It is a wrench and I know this because I looked it up in a British slang website). We finally figured out that what the character Doris appeared to be calling what sounded like “a eubank“ was a vacuum cleaner. Also make a note that kitty is apparently used in place of the word child. You will need that when you hear Irene talk about her neighbors.
Players are located at 106 Sixth Street, in Jacksonville Beach. Visit their website at www.playersby thesea. org.
TALKING HEADS theatre review
by DICK KEREKES