Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Marriage by the Masters
The Oasis Theatre Company
Review by Frances Madeson

Also see Rob's review of American Idiot and Dean's review of Funny Money


The Oasis Theatre Company has relocated to Santa Fe from Sullivan County, New York, and is presenting its inaugural production: Marriage by the Masters.

Cast with can-do local actors possessing a range of experience, the evening consists of three matrimony-themed drawing room comedies: How He Lied to Her Husband by George Bernard Shaw (1904), A Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekhov (1890), and The Forced Marriage by Molière (1664). The one-acts are ordered regressively, presented from most modern to most antique, spanning the Edwardian epoch, Imperial Russia, and the French Baroque period.

Brenda Lynn Bynum, who directed and designed the economical production replete with period costumes and elaborate wigs, conceived of an evening that "presents three different plays set in England, Russia, and France celebrating the similarities and differences in each of those cultures."

To accomplish this not particularly thoughtful or probably achievable goal, the short plays are presented as discrete pieces—the first, the second, intermission, and then the third. There's no inventive meta frame or internal splicing or dicing in some kind of wonderfully imaginative détournement, no conceptual liberties are taken or even suggested. Without any formal innovation to breathe life into the composition, the succession of period pieces feel like a trio of dusty dioramas in an olde tymee theater museum. One which very much leaves the promise of the Oasis' mission statement—to shed new light on old perceptions (whatever that means)—unrealized, unfulfilled, or even particularly attempted.

It's the kind of evening in the theater one might imagine may have been amusing in 1904 when Shaw's piece was first written, to show just how far bourgeois European society had (not) come—a kind of plus ça change mélange. Even as an exercise in scene study, Marriage by the Masters fails to provoke much interest. The actors manage to recite their lines convincingly enough, but more often than not smothering rather than mining the comic possibilities.

In the Shaw, the character "He" is played by Corbin Albaugh with a kind of generic affability devoid of any undercurrent of feverish lust that could fuel the mad dreams of an adolescent youth besotted with a curvaceous but vapid suburban matron ablaze with diamonds. Perhaps this is in obeisance to Shaw's note that Henry Apjohn is "a very beautiful youth, moving as in a dream, walking as on air." But if so, it's a misconstrual—dreams can be hot, even wet, and panthers in their stealth and sway can also seem to walk on air. But Albaugh's performance just comes off as vague, a little priggish, and not at all erotic—a goofy pest, rather than a serious temptation.

Albaugh seems at least a decade older than the intended character, as does his love object "She" played by Kelly Kiernan (more like a decade and half). The unfortunate result is that the play makes little psychological sense. Like with the fatal miscasting in last season's Theaterwork production of An Almost Holy Picture in which an actor in his early seventies was called on to perform the role of a father of a nine-year-old, it's a strain to watch. While not a biologic impossibility it changes things so drastically and pointlessly, it becomes hard to hold faith with the show.

The scene change to the Chekhov is fun. While Russian music plays, energetic stagehands transform the Edwardian drawing room into the living room of a Russian dacha set in the rural steppes. Printed farmhouse curtains are drawn over the stiffer, more opulent drapes, carpets are rolled out and furniture reconfigured.

This suitor, a neurotic, played by SFUAD graduate Hamilton Turner (who was so appealingly comical in last year's 39 Steps at the Santa Fe Playhouse), has come to ask his neighbor for his daughter's hand in marriage. The father, Tschubukov, played by John Warner Widell, is relieved to hear he's not come to borrow money. Surprised joy explodes on the expressive paterfamilias' face as he happily goes in search of his daughter, leaving Lomov to nervously consider his proposal.

Lomov has not come looking for love but for marriage, because as he reveals in a soliloquy, he's 35 and in need of a regular life. He's hoping a wife will help soothe his neurasthenic twitching, insomnia and chills. It might have been a moment of revelation of character that gives us a glimpse of the emotionally defended heart yearning to triumph over his self-defeating head. But Turner is left to flail, and later collapse in buffoonery, in an overblown fit of juvenile silliness. Honestly, I turned away, slightly embarrassed for this actor in his unnecessarily crude conniptions.

Ditto for Monique Lacoste as Nataliya who, after arguing with Lomov, learns he had come to propose and regrets his leaving. Chekhov says she wails and becomes hysterical at the botched chance for connection. Lacoste enacts a two-year-old's tantrum, balling up her face and fists in an infantile hissy fit. Chekhov for dummies or fifth graders.

In the Molière, Oasis co-founder James Jenner mugs and minces his way through his performance of Sganarelle, a man in his maturity considering taking a young bride who seeks the advice of friends and philosophers. Mairi Chanel plays Dorimène, the object of his lust, as a snide, gold-digging ice queen. She enters in a purple gown with a long train which she winds around Sganarelle. Why? I mean I know why—to show she's entrapping him—but really why these crude oversized gestures?

Index finger in the air, Lacoste also plays Pancrace, one of the philosophers for whom Molière has written an extended monologue mocking philosophy because it's not being helpful in solving Sganarelle's problem—to marry and risk being a cuckold. But even as mockage, it's an opportunity for a celebration of language, and critical inquiry, rationality and thought. But it's delivered to no one in particular in a rambling blur of verbiage without much delineation between questions, as if the poetic possibilities of language, thoughtfulness and human communication don't much matter at all.

Marriage by the Masters will run through July 30, 2017, Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. and Sunday @ 3:00 p.m. at Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213B Parkway Drive in Santa Fe, NM. For information and tickets, visit www.theoasistheatre.com.


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