Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playing In The Woods, Part 3

And now, the long-awaited (or at least long-delayed) review of Another Part of the Forest, the last show I saw at American Players Theatre. Great apologies for the delay--explanations are forthcoming.


Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, her 1946 prequel to 1939's classic The Little Foxes, was made for a proscenium stage--preferably one inside. It was the only production we saw that was a matinee Up The Hill, and certain moments suffered from the fact that it's impossible to have a blackout when the sun is shining. (The last moment of the play, particularly, though the musical cue still gave it a nice kick.) And the fact that it was quite hot and sunny didn't help, noticeably thinning the audience after the first intermission. So it's undeniable that the show had a tougher task than any of the others in the festival. But it certainly overcame the difficulties--Lillian Hellman wrote a tasty slab of melodramatic ham, and William Brown's production was just smashing, with everyone involved having a great time and keeping the audience entertained.

The play follows the scheming Hubbard family in 1880, 20 years before the events of The Little Foxes. The play delves into how they made their money and what made them who they became. It's often quite funny, but it's full of the "Old Testament Fury" that Brown mentions in his program notes: they may be absurd, and their antics fascinating, but there's no question that the Hubbards' ruthless scheming and acquisition of money and power is horribly destructive. That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, though.

However, the melodrama takes a little time arriving. One of the strange adjustments for a contemporary audience watching the show is the delibarateness with which Hellman sets up the story. Act 1 isn't dull, but it certainly take some patience to get through it, as the script methodically sets each part of the plot in place. Authors don't take this methodical approach to exposition any more, but after adjusting, it's fun, raising anticipation for the explosions to come. And when the plot does get moving, it's delightful watching Hellman knock down what she just set up.

The cast has a fine time with their parts, making the characters pop from the stage even when they aren't entering through the aisles. Tiffany Scott makes a grandly manipulative Regina (though not nearly so dangerous as the older version), Marcus Truschinski chills the blood as the calculating elder brother Ben, Eric Parks and Tracy Michelle Arnold are hilarious as the feckless younger brother Oscar and Laurette, his lady love (who's also a lady of the evening), and Susan Shunk brings real pathos to Birdie. But the play belongs to the parents--Jonathan Smoots' Marcus, unshakably powerful in his own home until he isn't, and Sarah Day's Lavinia, seemingly addled and  powerless, but with a few aces up her sleeve.

Some just won't take to the stately pace and reliance on plot twists. But for those who like it, this is a damn fine version of a hugely entertaining show.

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