Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Review Posted: Democracy

Centerstage has my review of the new Eclipse Theatre production of Romulus Linney's Democracy up. It sadly ended up a demonstration of the dangers of adapting novels to the stage. Very sad, because the genuinely good stuff onstage couldn't make up for the weaknesses. Ah well. Text is here:

Adapting one novel to the stage is quite difficult: it's a fine art to decide which plot points to put in, remaining true to the original text without rushing through the story, not to mention dramatizing the characters' inner lives in a compellingly theatrical way. Romulus Linney only compounded the difficulty by basing his play, "Democracy," on two novels by Henry Adams: Democracy and Esther. The result shows the pitfalls of the form. Events rush by, and while there are many worthwhile moments along the way, nothing acquires the depth necessary to be engaging.

The play takes place in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1875. Ulysses S. Grant (Ron Butts) is coming to the end of his disastrous presidency, and two young women are struggling with matters of love and politics. Mrs. Lee (Rebecca Prescott), a young widow, is trying to decide whether to marry Senator Silas Raitcliffe (Jon Steinhagen), while the independent-minded Esther Dudley (Nina O’Keefe) is mulling a similar proposal from Reverend Hazard (Stephen Dale). Unfortunately, each man has political beliefs and connections that the women loathe.

The play should be fascinating, but in trying to cover so much plot in only two hours, it feels like a sketch for a fuller piece. There's no time for events to register or characters to grow, so it's hard to get involved. Things do improve in the second act, but by then too much time has passed for the play to be as gripping as it should be.

Director Stephen Fedoruk and his cast do what they can, and there are some strong performances — Prescott and Steinhagen, having the better-written plot, turn in the most memorable work — but in addition to the flawed script, they are hobbled by a clumsy set and sloppily constructed costumes. There is excellent work being done in places, but it never coheres into a satisfying play.

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