This eerie ‘Nightingale’ sings a refreshingly resonant tune
|Red Tape Theatre presents|
|The Love of the Nightingale|
|by Timberlake Wertenbaker
directed by James Palmer
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont (map)
through May 29th | tickets: $25 | more info
reviewed by Barry Eitel
I’m not going to lie, my expectations weren’t so high when I entered the space for Red Tape Theatre’s newest production, The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The last (and admittedly, only) show I saw by them, last season’s Enemy of the People (our review ★½), was pretty weak. That said, I was completely blown away. Directed by Artistic Director James Palmer, Red Tape’s Love of the Nightingale was refreshing, bizarre, and remarkably resonant.
Nightingale explores the ancient Greek myth of Philomele who, as all those mythology buffs out there will tell you, was transformed into a nightingale after some pretty traumatic experiences. And given that it’s written by Wertenbaker, you can bet the whole story is given a feminist twist. Palmer and his enormous cast explode the story into life, ripping it from its ancient Greek context and filling it with anachronism and theatricality. Set designer William Anderson builds a completely new space within the heart of the gym in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The set is its own little world, encircling the audience and featuring plenty of hidden drawers, doors, and other surprises. Palmer’s production is intensely physical, demanding the actors throw all they got out on-stage, just a few inches from the audience.
The story tells of the relationship between Philomele (Meghan Reardon), her sister Procne (Kathleen Romond), and her brother-in-law and King of Thrace, Tereus (Vic May). For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth, Procne asks her husband, Tereus, to bring her little sister out to Thrace for a visit. He sails over to Athens to pick her up, but things get a little heated on the trip back. Through a brilliant choice, the play is shaped and revealed by an almost silent dollmaker/carpenter/puppetmaster (Robert Oakes), who seems compelled to tell this unsettling story to us.
The dream team of designers Palmer amassed has concocted a marvelous world. Ricky Lurie’s modern-dress costumes are stunning, reveling in the uncanny style Palmer has set out. The suits and dresses are bright and colorful, contrasting sharply with the terrifying depths the play plunges towards. Anderson’s set is simple enough to hold all of the different scenes required in the text, yet exudes its own bizarre essence. This is all pushed by Palmer, who moonlights as lighting designer, and his fetish for flickering fluorescents. The show is eerie and surreal, sometimes a dream and sometimes a nightmare.
Although the performances are at times outdone by the incredible design, there are some choice actors here. Romond’s tortured Procne is excellent; although the character doesn’t feature much in the original myth, here we’re entranced by her struggle. As Philomele, it takes Reardon a scene or two to hit her stride but she gets there, especially as the play gets heavier. May does great work as well, finding both Tereus’ sliminess and his royalty. For such a small stage, the cast is massive. However, they all fit the play extremely well, and everyone out there is required for the world to work as well as it does.
Much of the chorus is used in choreographed movement that surrounds the audience, trapping them into Philomele’s tragic tale. However, sometimes the movement pieces overstay their welcome and reach into repetitive territory, then our interest flags. The play calls for plenty of brutality, but Zack Meyer and Claire Yearman’s fight choreography doesn’t really hack it. It works well technically, but doesn’t have the piercing specificity the rest of the show has.
From their The Love of the Nightinggale, it is clear Red Tape has an aesthetic that works for them. Hopefully, they’ll expand and explore more of what made this play great. If Red Tape keeps churning out work like this, they’ll become a tiger of the storefront scene.
With Shane Brady, Cassandra Clingon, Amanda Compton, Carrie Drapac, Danielle Fischer, Whitney Green, Krista Juderjahn, Whitney Kraus, Sarah Latin-Kasper, Don Markus, Nick Mikula, Amanda Newman, Meghan Reardon, Kate Romond, John Rushing and Edwin Unger
With William Anderson (set design), Alex Braatz (Technical Director), Emily Guthrie (Properties), Ricky Lurie (Costume Design), Marti Lyons (Dramaturge), Miles Polaski (Sound Design), Claire Yearman (Fight Choreographer)
Photo 1 (above the review): The Love of the Nightingale, Red Tape Theatre. Pictured Becky Mock, Nick Combs, Vic May, Lona Livingston, Myah Shein, Paul G. Miller, Paige Sawin, Robert Oakes. Photo credit James Palmer
Photo 2 (below the review): The Love of the Nightingale, Red Tape Theatre. Pictured Paul G. Miller, Myah Shein, Vic May, Robert Oakes, Paige Sawin, Nicholas Combs, Becky Mock, Lona Livingston. Photo Credit, James Palmer
Timberlake Wertenbaker‘s plays include Our Country’s Good; The Grace of Mary Traverse (Royal Court, 1985); The Love of the Nightingale (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1989), which won the Eileen Anderson Central TV drama award; Three Birds Alighting on a Field (Royal Court, 1991), which won the Writers’ Guild and Drama Circle Best West End Play Award 1991 and the Susan Smith Blackburn Award in 1992; The Break of Day (Royal Court, 1995); After Darwin (Hampstead Theatre, 1998); Dianeira (Catherine Bailey Productions, BBC Radio 3, 1999); The Ash Girl (Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 2000) and Credible Witness (Royal Court, 2001). Her translations and adaptations include Marivaux’s False Admissions and Successful Strategies (Shared Experience, 1983); Ariane Mnouchkine‘s Mephisto (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986); Sophocles’ The Theban Plays (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1991); Euripides’s Hecuba (ACT, San Francisco, 1995 and BBC Radio 3, 2002); Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande (1999); Eduardo de Filippo’s Filumena (Peter Hall Company at the Piccadilly Theatre, 1999); Anouilh’s Wild Orchids (Chichester, 2002) and most recently, The H. File, adapted from Ismail Kadare’s novel (BBC, Radio 3, 2003.)