Writer: Lanford Wilson
Director: James Kemp
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The pressure of modern living on our state of mind is perfect fodder for the stage, and the second part of this Lanford Wilson double bill Above the Arts is entirely concerned with the neuroses it creates. Again two quite different short plays are thematically linked by the idealised lives characters are leading in their imagination which helps them to escape from the realities of the day-to-day.
The first day Ludlow Fair is by far the weakest of the four Wilson pieces in this repertory season, concerning the guilt felt by a young woman who reported her boyfriend to the police. Set in the bedroom of a New York flat in 1965, this is a duologue between Rachel and her flatmate Agnes who agonise over the men in their lives and the trouble they cause, while wondering if they will ever find the one.
It opens with Rachel (Sophie Angelson) having an imaginary conversation with her therapist, playing word association games and trying to interpret blots of nail varnish. It’s an overlong and incredibly stagey beginning; Angelson wanders around the room wringing her hands and biting her nails – actor code for being highly perturbed – which never quite convinces even when we find out why, and the character seems not nearly charismatic enough to have attracted six boyfriends in nine months.
Natalie Webb’s Agnes is the more pragmatic girl, a constant should-to-cry-on but refusing to indulge Rachel’s anxiety, delivering killer lines such as ‘I heard every feeble-minded word you said’ with real bite, but even she then indulges in projected conversations of a forthcoming date. Overall it’s just hard to care about these characters and it’s all rather forgettable.
Home Free! on the other hand is a dynamic and exciting piece which takes the audience into the fantasy world of Lawrence and Joanna, neither of whom is connected to reality. As the play opens Lawrence is teaching a lesson to what we presume are two children who we can’t see, while they all wait for Joanna to return when she will tell them strange stories of her adventures outside. Facing eviction for being too noisy, Joanna and Lawrence ‘play’ while he tries to determine how much of what she says is true.
Lawrence is played with great intensity by Jackson Milner who explodes in rage at the start of the play, immediately setting a frenzied tone which entirely suits this bizarre story. Milner hints at his character’s agoraphobia and manages the rapid changes of mood from despair to love, from control to fear really well. Samantha Dakin as Joanna is more socially confident but equally subsumed into this fantasy world they have created together, which adds considerable pathos to the dramatic conclusion. These performances impress because the actors consistently give the impression that their characters see their make-believe world as real which makes their interaction seem natural even at its most crazy.
It’s a short evening with the performance of both pieces taking less than ninety minutes, and the quality is mixed, which is more obvious after seeing Home Free!. But the Greenwich Village Above the Arts season is a chance to see plays first staged more than 50 years ago but proving that Lanford Wilson’s work and concerns about the effect of modernity on human emotions remains entirely relevant today.
Runs until21 February 2016 | Image: Contributed