Saturday, August 13, 2011

When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide
By Tom Wachunas

“A Walking Shadow” - the newest play by Sherry Yanow and Deborah Fezelle that premiered August 12 at the Kathleen Howland Theatre – is a serpentine journey through relentless political ambition and conspiratorial intrigue that is somewhat slow in uncoiling. But when it does uncoil, it’s against the steadily swelling backdrop of murder along with a few loudly rattled skeletons falling out of closets long locked up.

The story, directed by Deborah Fezelle, takes place in modern-day Washington, D.C., set in the congressional office of Representative Ethan Masters, and in the library of his Georgetown home. Young Ethan is an impulsive idealist butting heads with his godfather - ‘Lion of the Senate’ Gilbert Stanton - over an upcoming vote on a controversial environmental issue. Stanton plans to be the next U.S. President, and has been grooming Ethan to be his running mate, in accordance with the wishes of Ethan’s recently deceased father, the powerful newspaper magnate, E.J. Masters. Stanton prevails upon Ethan’s chief of staff, long-time friend Georgia Dean (and former employee of E.J. Masters), to convince Ethan to fall in line and quit rocking the boat, else ruin his political future. Beyond struggling to deal with the death of his iconic father, other pressures on Ethan include the investigation of the murder of his estranged wife, a psychic probing his past, scandal and blackmail brewing around an alleged extramarital affair, and a crazed lobbyist hungry for more love after a drunken one-night stand. Throw in being stalked by an equally crazed tree-hugger, and it’s no surprise that Ethan quickly makes friends with the bottle.

While the play certainly isn’t a comedy, it is well punctuated with some notably hilarious interludes, provided by Kristy Shank and Rufus Malone, Jr. Shank is a fireball in her viciously over- the- top role of Mariah, the sex-starved lobbyist. And as the loony, rubber knife-wielding Herbert, who talks to an unseen forest critter he carries in a tote bag, Malone is a comedic marvel.

Ariel Roberts plays Hayden Storm, the forensic psychic who shows up unexpectedly and unwanted at first, but proves to be cathartic in the end, affirming Ethan’s idealism. Roberts is thoroughly fascinating to watch as she unravels the twisted secrets surrounding Ethan – “shadows trailing shadows,” she calls them - all the while seeming to struggle with the fine line between her human intuition and her gift. As Ethan, Joseph M. Haladey, III is fascinating, too. In his character’s passionate fight to be perceived as genuinely “sympathetic” amid all his flaws, Haladey’s performance is in fact the play’s most accessible and poignant one. And he plays a really fine drunk in the process.

More complicated are Marilyn Wells as Georgia, and Ross Rhodes as Senator Stanton. Both can be riveting – even astonishing at times - in their respective portrayals of two driven people, each with a terrible secret and each obsessed with their cosmetic support of Ethan. Their tragic characters are made for each other, actually. But they often speak, both to each other and to Ethan, with an over-played gravitas that’s more wearying than natural. The dialogue itself is sufficiently loaded with crackling energy, but their delivery imbues it with a kind of mock- Shakespearean dignity that needlessly slows down the proceedings.

The net effect that’s projected from these complex performances is that the characters tend to come off a bit like stilted cartoons – very adult cartoons, I’ll grant. Ironically enough, though, that’s not to the play’s detriment as much as one might imagine it to be. Were I a first-time visitor to this planet, encountering these people and their dreadful machinations, I would likely regard them as parodies, and ask them for directions to the nearest real people. Ahh, but we earth folk know all too well, especially now, that politicians seem to have evolved into (with apologies to Macbeth) a sorry lot indeed - exasperating idiots of the first order, full of furious sound bytes, signifying nothing.

But this play does signify something. More than merely imitating life, genuinely engaging theatre – which this is, despite some pacing problems – intensifies and illuminates it.

Photo, courtesy Deborah Fezelle,“A Walking Shadow” cast, left to right: Marilyn Wells, Rufus Malone, Jr., Joseph M Haladey III, Ariel Roberts, Ross Rhodes – shows August 13, 19, 20 at 8p.m. in the Kathleen Howland Theatre, located in the lower level of Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Tickets $10, call (330) 451 – 0924. Visit

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