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December 19, 2010

Creating New Truths Out of Old Lies

The truth is the Dresser had no idea what to expect from a Mendacity Festival. Mendacity: the tendency to be untruthful, a falsehood, a lie. Associated with mendacity are: crying wolf, snow jobs, and window dressing.

USING TENNESSEE WILLIAMS TO SET THE COURSE

On December 13 and 15, 2010, in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the first cohort (eight students working as a group) of a Master of Fine Arts in Performance from the University of Maryland's School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies presented an evening of scenes from three Tennessee Williams plays followed by solo performances created in response to the Tennessee Williams character played. The solo performances also "explored" for each performer:

• What are the costs of deception?
• Was there a time in your life and your Williams character's life that you (or your character) needed to lie or create your (his/her) own truth to survive?
• What was the need to lie?
• What needed to be hidden?

Maggie-BrickSM.jpgThe Williams' Scenes opened with two scenes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Anu Yadav as Maggie and Armando Batista as Brick plunged the audience into the emotionally fraught exchange between a wife struggling to hold her marriage together and her husband who is coldly indifferent to her plea. While Yadav delivered most of the lines, it was the body language of the two actors that supercharged this scene and set up the next scene where Brick's father Big Daddy pays Brick a visit to see what's wrong with him and his marriage.

The second Williams Scene was played by Nick Horan as Brick and Teresa Ann Virginia Bayer as an oddly memorable Big Daddy. In this casting arrangement, Bayer stole the focus as a diminutive woman playing a man whose nickname indicates his large size and stature. BigDaddySM.jpgThe Dresser wonders now if Horan could have done anything to equalize the playing field beyond camping up his performance. Maybe that is precisely what was needed since the play in its entirety indicates that Brick is cold toward Maggie because his sexual interest has always been in his now deceased friend Skipper, the same man who Maggie confronted regarding his too-close friendship with her husband and who attempts to prove Maggie wrong by making love to her.

The third Williams Scene pits the gentile but down-on-her-luck Blanche (played by Caroline Clay) in Streetcar Named Desire against the bully with no manners or boundaries Stanley (Rob Jansen). Clay did a good job making the audience understand Maggie's need to live in a world where truth is relative versus the raw reality of her brother-in-law Stanley. Clay and Jansen delivered solid performances.Blanche-Stanley.jpg

By comparison to the first three scenes, the last scene drawn from The Glass Menagerie seemed a little long and relatively tame. Claudia Rosales as Laura emerged unexpectedly in the opening of this scene from underneath a blanket thrown across a living room settee. It was a very charming moment and set up an expectation for something more profound than what was delivered. What happens in this scene is that Laura, a child-like woman who collects glass figurines, is courted by Jim (played by Dave Demke) a friend of Laura's brother. This is the last scene of William's play. Unlike Streetcar and Cat, no volcanic emotions erupt. GlassMenagerieSM.jpgIn Menagerie, the dramatic tension builds throughout the play and therefore this scene requires an acting intensity that comes from an accrual of moves built over the duration of the play--a mighty tall order for even the most experienced actors. Perhaps this scene should have been the first one presented in the Williams Scenes to avoid comparison with the more heavy hitting scenes.

The mendacity inventory from the William Scenes shakes out to snow jobs with a dash of window dressing. Brick is living a lie being married to Maggie but he hasn't come to terms with loving a man either. Big Daddy is caught in a lie about his health. The family knows he is dying but he thinks otherwise based on what his doctor said. Blanche chooses to think she is refined when the reality is that she cannot afford to live according to the high financial and moral standards she talks about. Laura has never grown up and lives in the past while Jim initially presents himself as a "gentleman caller" when the reality is he is involved with another woman.

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