With a sharp slap of a book hitting the floor, the Scandinavian American Theater Company‘s production of Beloved begins. It’s the same as when a conductor raises his baton, we fall silent and hold our breath, waiting for the bond between action and intent to be shared; where reality and poetry will melt into one another and take us on a journey. It is in that silence that a young pretty blond woman, played by Ellinor DiLorenzo (“Androids & Aliens“) descends onto the stage from up above, navigating the ladder to the floor, ready to engage. She’s nervous and on edge, pacing the haphazardly designed space, created by costume and set designer Lisa Renee Jordan (Ohio Theatre’s Fetes de la Nuit), with a sense that time is of the essence but also at a standstill. The framework sucks us in, and we wait for those first words to bridge the gap.
The play, written with a strong sense of purpose and conscience by Lisa Langseth (Klimax) and translated by Charlotte Barslund, attempts to entangle us in with the strands of her overriding urgency. She’s upset, that’s clear, but as directed with an unending need for movement and distraction by Kathy Curtiss, Artistic Director of Renaissance Now Theatre & Film, the tremor in her voice never digs in deep enough to her terror and discomfort. We wander with her on the edge of engagement, sometimes feeling her passionate anger and unearthed aggression, but never tied to it. She’s a petulant teenager, basically, frustrated with her position in the world, trapped in a dimension outside of artistic inclusion, and angrily pointing the finger as whomever she can. She desires to be swept away without regard by the passion for the newly discovered dimension of art and creation, forcing her to discard all other human concerns and embrace the complexities of unbalanced eroticism and heightened consciousness as she scrambles toward the profound truth.
The concept of the abuse of passion and intellectual desire wrapped up in desperation for escape resonated, but I wasn’t taken in by DiLorenzo’s portrayal, almost from the beginning. She seemed stuck in about four modes of emotionality, almost as clearly defined as the spaces she inhabited on the cluttered stage. If she was over by the couch, she was angry and frustrated, swearing with intense destructive venom, but if she was at the desk, she was feeling aroused, needy, and profoundly curious. The actress moved with panic, stumbling over her lines initially, until the moment her character, the intriguing and unwinding Katerina, discovers the imbedded beauty that resides inside classical music and opera. At that juncture, her portrayal settled a bit, feeling more centered and authentic. Unfortunately, she is laden with actions that seemed pointless and without intention. Why she needed to eat some take-away in the middle of the one act 90 minute play is beyond me. It’s distracting and unmerited, but there she does, eating and drinking, packing and pacing around the stage like a psychotic patient in a ward, telling us an intriguing tale, but with the artificial gymnastics having no meaning or direction. They rarely add emotional clarity or depth to the story which is quite a shame, as the tale as crafted is complex and engaging.
I wanted weight in her voice and to feel the trapped passion in her soul tightening like a rope around her neck. But it never felt that dangerous or violent, just nervous and frustrated like a teenage girl not getting what she wants out of her high school life. I had visions of another one woman show, Squeamish that played at Theatre Row last fall. That show starred the actress, Alison Fraser confining her movement to an armchair in a pool of light telling us her demented tale of violence and aggression. It was hypnotizing in a way Beloved never descended. My mind kept racing to that idea, wondering what that would have been like to see this intricate and angry transgression passionately spin its web ensnared in a circle of light. DiLornzo would be forced to harness that darkness as if she was being interrogated, sprawled out on the floor with little to no props to distract her from what she is trying to convey. She doesn’t need different jackets or outfits to explain herself, nor doesn’t she need a meal and a sparkling beverage. But what she does need is confinement and intense introspection, both literally and physically, forcing the music in her demented soul to dig deep and unwind before our very eyes.
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