Monday, April 22, 2013

Metropolitan Ensemble "Pride's Crossing" review by BobEvans

MET play examines social issues of early 1900s Rating: 5

Pride's Crossing
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Author Tina Howe's play, Pride's Crossing comes to life on the stage of the Metropolitan Ensemble Theater (MET) with stunning characterizations, strong acting, beautiful costumes, and a bit of non-standard gender bending thrown is as well.

The play, covers about 75 years of fictional swimmer Mabel Tidings Bigelow as she looks back over her life and loves. A summer lawn party in honor of the Fourth of July sets the plot in motion as a willful 90-year-old Mabel relives he past, including her weak relationship with distant parents, drastically different older brothers, and an unflinching desire to prove her worth by swimming the English Channel faster than any man or woman before her.

The play touches on the upper class society, anti-Semetic prejudices of the WASPish New England society, the role of women prior to the women's suffrage movement, dysfunctional family structure (long before that was a commonplace theme), alcoholism, fear, determination, and unresolved questions of opportunities passed. The lead character of Mabel confronts those issues and more as the play unfolds and her strength of character drive the play. At times the play hints at the lifestyle of The Great Gatsby era while at other points touches on turn of the century morals and codes of ethical behavior. What could be more simple than a garden party for Fourth of July and a croquet match?

Mabel, in this production, commands the stage in the talented hands of Celia Gannon. Gannon never seems to leave the stage for more than maybe two minutes at a time, and many times changes costumes and age on stage. Her skill to transform from young Mabel to elderly Mabel amazes viewers. Gannon's depth of characterization takes center stage and she controls most scenes with her stage presence and inter-active play amongst other cast members. While she remains constant as Mabel, the other cast members don other personas as they move in and out of Mabel's life through different stages of her life.

The show brings many laughs, created by the characters and they portray. Some of the more amusing moments come as the four men in the cast appear as women characters in dresses and wigs from the different time periods. Never, though, do the men become campy or burlesque-like in mannerisms. The men appear in black tie for one scene, as women in another, and in white, summer, ice-cream suits at other times. The audience never knows which character will appear next or what gender the men wear.

And as for the changes of costumes, designer, Shannon Smith Regnier dressed the characters in period pieces to perfection. Stand out pieces include the lawn gowns worn for a party scene and the white summer suits for several other scenes. Obvious attention to detail and the time frame show in all costumes.

Director Karen Paisley and Assistant Director, Tony Beasley selected an outstanding supporting cast comprised of four vastly talented men and three women to support Gannon. Even though all cast members are strong and balanced, the men steal the scenes when in female attire.

Depend on Alan Tilson's male and female counterparts to provide some of the best physical and facial gestures while delivering his lines with an understanding of each of the two characters he portrays. Similarly, Coleman Crenshaw's three characters display his vast talent to create several very different characters. Jordan Fox's three personas and Matt Leonard's four characters show the level of expertise of each actor. They delineate their characters with physical changes, dialogue, accents, drunkenness, and costumes. All four give amazing performances.

Playing off Mabel's strong and willful character, the three other women match her in each scene. Devon Barnes, Shelley Wyche and Ericka Lynette Baker all portray two characters, and all strong, willful women and refuse to let Mabel's character to overpower them on stage. Seasoned veterans, all, they fill their roles with beautiful movement and dialogue delivery. Most of their parts are smaller than the men, so their time on stage is limited. Time is limited, their talents are not.

Pride's Crossing opened April 12 and runs through April 28. Plan ahead to attend and pre-purchase tickets online to not risk a sell out.

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