SCR's historical farce blazes a trail for local theater
By Daedalus Howell
THE PLAY'S the thingamajig at Sonoma County Repertory Theatre--in the form of local playwright John Moran's hilarious, rambling reprise of his two-act farce Repertory!, deftly navigated by director Diane Bailey. (An earlier version of Repertory! was staged last year as part of SCR's New Drama Works program.)
A reeling comic fantasia, Repertory ! posits what would occur if dramatists Christopher Marlowe (Cameron McVeigh), Ben Johnson [sic] (Eric Thompson), the seafaring Walter Raleigh (Tom McIntyre), and neophyte scribe William "Gerry" Shakespeare (Kevin Lingener) were to found a theater empire in the Roanoke, Va., of the late 16th century.
A truly gifted wordsmith, Moran makes happy bedfellows of burlesque and screwball with frantic antics and ribald gags set against historical fact and dressed in myriad literary and pop cultural references. Moran must have been weaned on flicks like Casino Royal and What's New, Pussycat?, for his play reproduces much of the same droll if cockeyed spirit. Often absurd and ultimately charming, Repertory! soars on featherweight wings of farce and satire.
Eric Thompson tips the comic Richter scale with his usual radish-faced bluster as Ben Johnson, who suffers being paid by the word and consequently lets his prolix predilections run rampant.
Cameron McVeigh, a likable performer with a facile stage manner and delightfully contrived stammer, does well as the enfant terrible Marlowe. Though effective in the role, McVeigh frequently seems one degree removed from his character--as if he's acting as though he's acting as Marlowe.
Tom McIntyre's even-keel Raleigh and Kevin Lingener's wet-behind-the-ears Shakespeare round out the Elizabethan Fab Four with appropriately understated performances.
Jim dePriest's turn as the moonstruck spy chief Lord Burghley is pure, unmitigated theatrical black magic. The lunatic monologues Moran has penned for dePriest are the unholy offspring of James Joyce, Lewis Carroll, and Groucho Marx. It's word salad topped with Three Mile Island dressing, and dePriest astounds.
One of the more interesting themes Moran explores amid Repertory!'s cavalcade of Beatles allusions is the impact of death on a group dynamic. News of Marlowe's historical murder is foreshadowed by John Lennon's posthumous Beatles hit "Free as a Bird." By associating his four characters with the Beatles, Moran underscores the fragility of artistic collaboration.
Marlowe's death marks the end of the characters' dream of starting a theater colony as well as a coming-of-age for the nascent Shakespeare, whose individuation as a writer was stymied by Marlowe's celebrity and literary prowess--and so concludes the play's single character arc.
SCR should be applauded for staging this work. By doing so, the company defies all other local theaters to likewise produce homegrown material. One hopes that Repertory! has set the stage for what is to come for local theater.
'Repertory!' hits the stage at Sonoma County Rep, 415 Humboldt St., Santa Rosa. 544-7278.
From the October 5-11, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.