'VICTIMS' - "ODDLY ENGROSSING, WATER-INFUSED ESCAPADE"
Firmly affixed... In 1995, two years after Eugene Ionesco died, A Red Orchid Theatre mounted a production of his 1953 play Victims of Duty. That production, much like the one that is currently playing on North Wells, was directed by Shira Piven and featured founding ensemble members Michael Shannon and Guy Van Swearingen. If you are counting, 23 years have passed and as Piven admits in the program notes, between the three of them, they now have six kids. The brilliant actress Karen Aldridge is the third central character in the story about a detective (Shannon) who visits the apartment of Choubert (Swearwingen) and his wife Madeline (Aldridge) in search of the former tenant, Mallot – three capitivating performances that will have you firmly affixed to 'le siege.'
A summer bonus... In addition to Victims, AROT mounted Hunger and Thirst, directed by Shannon in 2005 and The Killer in 1997 none of which I had the pleasure of seeing, so I was thrilled that the 25th Anniversary season included a summer bonus remount of the rarely-produced Victims of Duty. The question that I have heard most often is: “Why revisit this play?” to which I say: “Why not? I could watch these exceptional actors fold towels for 90 minutes and be thoroughly entertained." Having now seen the show, and given the aquatic nature of things that are unique to this production, there probably is a fair amount of towel-folding going on.
Somewhat abstract... Victims, Piven notes, is an elevation of the meanings that were, in 1995, “very personal and somewhat abstract” to the present where there is a “social|political resonance that we can’t escape, as much as we might want to.” All that water may be a metaphor for our current societal submersion. That said, we are not supposed to delve too deeply or, as Piven says, "...try too hard for perfect unserstanding." It is Theater of the Absurd, after all. (There was a moment, midway through the Saturday press matinee, when Michael Shannon, coming out from a hostage-like situation, had a nick on his cheek that developed into a stream of very real looking blood. And it was. Nothing to stop the show, but it did add a bit of reality to the absurdist drama that only live theatre can provide.)
Dark reaches... The Detective, who is also a lover and despot, leads Choubert on an exploration of his mind descending and ascending through the dark reaches of imagination from patriotic husband to son to infant while Madeline’s journey from wife to lover and old age all find their place within the pages of a play. It is a detective story, of course, the kind about which all great drama revolves, we are told. If you are having a hard time following this, you will not be alone. Such is the world that Ionesco creates, where traditional perceptions and characterizations are virtually non-existent. Victims of Duty may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, but there are plenty of cups to go around.
Oddly engrossing... In addition to those mentioned, there are two additional characters Nicholas D’eu (Richard Cotovsky) and The Lady (ensemble member Mierka Girten) who are page turners for the larger work. In the theatre, as in life, it is the cyclical nature of things that matter most and these two lay in wait for the next chapter. I consider myself a bit of a page turner after this experience and extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the same intimate space with this company of actors – highly-skilled theatrical artists who have recreated a uniquely watchable, oddly engrossing, water-infused escapade. I will not soon forget the experience and if you have already made plans to attend, I am sure that you will agree. If not, you may be completely out of luck unless you stand-by for a ticket. The run of the show has been sold-out for months and for good reason. Magnifique!
A RED ORCHID THEATRE
VICTIMS OF DUTY
Directed by Shira Piven
through August 5th
1531 N Wells Avenue