A Kind of Alaska - L to R: Britney Bunker, Joe Denk, and Carmen Call
A Kind of Alaska - L to R: Joe Denk and Carmen Call
The Lesson - L to R: Christa Popovich and Sandi Salas
The Lesson - L to R: Christa Popovich, Sandi Salas, and Joe Denk
Jul 06-Jul 06, 2001
|Deborah [A Kind Of Alaska]|
|Dr. Hornby [A Kind Of Alaska]|
|Pauline[A Kind Of Alaska]|
|Professor [The Lesson]|
|Pupil [A Kind Of Alaska]|
|[The Lesson] The Maid|
|[The Lesson] The Maid|
|Costume [The Lesson]|
|Director [A Kind Of Alaska]|
|Director [The Lesson]|
|Set Design [The Lesson]|
No Strings' risk taking pays off
- By Cheryl Thornburg, Sun News C-1 [Friday July 6, 2001]
Never let it be said that No Strings Theatre Company plays it safe. Its latest productions are definitely not for everyone, but for those who like complex, thought-provoking plays, they should be a summer treat.
Solidly in the theatre-of-the-absurd genre, both plays feature plots and dialogue that can seem disjointed and confusing, but it is just that surreal quality that makes them so intriguing.
Eugene Ionesco's "The Lesson" starts out as a laugh-filled story about a professor and his new pupil, but it gradually becomes more perplexing until the dark, underlying message surfaces and it is chilling.
Veteran actor Joe Denk as the Professor masters both the silly and sinister aspects of this character, one that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. As he molds the mind of his student, the Professor's techniques become more and more disturbing until parallels between the immediate scene and Naziism become incresingly more evident.
Denk's performance is enhanced by outstanding supporting actresses.
Christa Popovich as the Maid creates a commanding presence on stage, and her scenes with Denk are first rate. Her demeanor is rigid and austere and she delivers her lines with ominous overtones. "No, Professor, no, not philology. Philology leads to calamity," she says sternly, body ramrod erect.
Popovich is a senior theatre arts major at New Mexico State University and may be remembered for her roles in "Tommy J and Sally," "Picasso at Lapin Agile" and "Blythe Spirit." Popovich played the role opening night June 29 and will be featured today and Sunday. Megan McKinney will play the part Saturday. She has performed at Las Cruces Community Theatre, Mayfield High School, and the Missoula Children's Theatre.
NMSU sophomore Sandi Salas plays the Pupil with a wide-eyed innocence that makes the audience apprehensive for her as the "lesson" takes a dark turn.
Director Julie Akers evokes fine performances from her actors, and also has put together a polished production with costumes and a set that are masterpieces in themselves.
Costume designer Bobby Brewer-Wallin has outdone himself for "The Lesson," particularly for the Maid's attire.
It is a fascinating work of art that gives whoever wears it an aura of bizarre authority, but on closer examination also has many tales of its own to tell. You have to see it up close to appreciate it and the intimacy of the Black Box Theatre allows the audience to do just that.
The set, too, is unforgettable. In traditional Black Box fashion, it follows the principle "less is more." Designed by Peter Herman, its ingenious, book-laden furnishings and carefully chosen props complete a memorable theatre package.
"A Kind of Alaska," by playwright Harold Pinter, is lighter in tone but also has its serious side. Pinter wrote it after reading Oliver Sack's book, "Awakenings," which recounted the story of patients who were awakened after sleeping for many years due to sleeping sickness.
Pinter's play tells the story of Deborah, a woman who's been asleep for 29 years and awakens still thinking that she's 16 years old. Carmen Call, well known to local audiences for her musical comedy talent in productions such as "Nunsense," shows she's a talented dramatic actress as well. Call practically glows as she delivers a sensitive portrayal of the woman who is almost child-like on awakening and then gradually becomes confused and frustrated as she realizes what has happened to her.
Call is backed up by none other than Joe Denk as Dr. Hornby, a very different character from the Professor in "The Lesson."
Britney Bunker, who's been very busy on the local theatre scene this year, adds yet another credit to her resume as Pauline. Bunker radiates warmth and concern as the sister trying to help Deborah cope with her experience.
Ceil Herman, artistic director of NSTC, directs "A Kind of Alaska," adding yet another gem to her string of theatrical credits.
"A Kind of Alaska" shows first, followed by a slightly longer than average intermission to allow time for set changes. "The Lesson" concludes the evening. Both shows plus the intermission last about two hours.
Both plays include some subject matter that might be disturbing for younger children, but could be acceptable for teens. There are lots of laughs, but the darker, philosophical themes make them appropriate for mature audiences.
Performances of "A Kind of Alaska" and "The Lesson" are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre on the north end of the Downtown Mall. Ticket prices are $7 for regular admission and $6 for students/seniors (over 65). Reservations are available by calling (505) 523-1223 or on-line at www.zianet.com/nstcbbt.
No seating plan has been posted.