Monday, November 6, 2017

Forsooth, My Lovely

 Paul Roder (center) and (clockwise from top) Jason Fox, Chelsea Read, Phyllis Gurian Lang, and Lura Longmire.
Photo by Carl Dalhquist.

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro’s HART Theatre continues to fulfill its 2017-18 season’s theme/promise, “Laugh Along With HART” - this time with an unabashedly farcical, yet surprisingly erudite mash-up of hard-boiled detective fiction and Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. Playwright David Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely brings together these wildly disparate elements in an improbable film noir style that offers a lot of fun for either lovers or haters of both genres (or those who are merely indifferent, but not opposed to a good laugh or two). Director Sarah Fuller approaches the comedy with a very broad brush, allowing her actors the latitude to shamelessly play to their audience – and it works like a charm.

The story, of course, makes no sense at all. An obviously American gumshoe with the appropriately Shakespearean name Birnam Wood arrives (from London, not New York) in Padua to help wealthy merchant Baptista unravel a scandal – some dirty etchings showing the naked form of his younger daughter Bianca. The sharp-tongued elder daughter, Katherine (as in Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate) develops an oddly seductive rapport with the detective, culminating in a wonderful stage kiss.  Mere blackmail turns to murder most foul as the convoluted plot evolves. Lovers are star-crossed, authority figures mercilessly mocked, while jesters jest. With the exception of Wood, all of the characters are drawn from Shakespeare’s plays – mostly comic, mostly Italian, but with a soup├žon of the French and a spectacular Scottish touch. Audience members who recognize the greatest number of Shakespearian twists perhaps laugh most, but there is no shortage of seriously comic touches for even the most Bard-averse.

As Birnam Wood, HART Artistic Director Paul Roder is the only actor who plays just one role, and he simply revels in the darkly cynical comedy of the Chandleresque detective. His slight form, stereotypical ‘40s trench coat and fedora, and down-in-the heels affect contrast sharply with Lalanya Gunn’s portrayal of the shrewish Kate, whose gestures, mannerisms, and projection are all truly larger than life. Both Gunn and her stage “sister” Chelsea Read (as Bianca) are fun in their primary roles, but their pairing as two of Macbeth’s three witches is simply unforgettable – perhaps the comic high point of an already hilarious show.

Lura Longmire is constantly in motion as she struts, busters, and sidles through five roles (Baptista, Conrade, Costard, Oberon, and Proteus), giving each character a unique absurdity that keeps the audience in stitches, and her death scene is a thing of beauty (I’m not really giving anything away, since I won’t tell you which one dies). Phyllis Gurian Lang gives us a satisfyingly lusty if slightly geriatric Emilia, but it is her manic and morbid take on Lear’s Fool that really distinguishes her performance.

The rest of the cast, all male, cannot be overlooked – Mark Putnam (as Oliver, Borachio, and Malvolio) delivers some wonderful moments, and Nick Serrone’s drunken Trinculo and naively star-struck (or detective-struck) Romeo are fine vehicles for the actor’s timing and pratfalls. Jason Fox is satisfyingly pretentious and uncharismatic as both Dogberry the cop and Petruchio the suitor – clearly, neither character will prevail in love or conflict.

Heather Sutherland’s lighting design sets the tone perfectly, and Fuller’s minimal set design establishes the fanciful unreality of the play while allowing for fast scene changes (always a plus). Given the variety of characters, costuming must have been a real challenge, but Fuller, Chris Byrne, and Karen Roder somehow pulled it off.

The best news of all is that HART has partnered with North Portland’s Twilight Theater Company to offer a companion play, The Maltese Bodkin, next year. Film noir, detective, comedy and Shakespeare fans should make a serious effort to catch both shows.

Forsooth My Lovely is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through November 19th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.

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