Impressive acting trumps thin story
Deborah Staples in "The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead" at Writers' Theatre.
‘The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead’
Writers’ Theatre, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2 p.m. (June 27 and July 25 only) and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (no 6 p.m. performance July 1 or 29), through July 29
(847) 242-6000 or visit www.writerstheatre.org
Updated: June 5, 2012 9:03PM
“The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” is a showcase for the actor in its cast of one.
Were it cast with seven actors portraying its seven characters, the largely tension-free drama would lose what makes it interesting: watching a single person morph into roles ranging from a four-year-old boy to an elderly woman to a blue-collar oaf of a clueless misogynist.
As it is, the primary reason for seeing Writers’ Theatre’s staging of Robert Hewett’s series of monologues is to witness the actorly skills of Deborah Staples. It’s a tour de force performance rather than a compelling narrative. It’s interesting not because it draws you into a richly drawn story thick with
dramatic tension, but because you want to see how Staples will transform herself next.
That makes it something of a parlor trick of a play, an entertainment you watch while marveling at a performer skilled in creating illusions. As a drama, it’s rather thin soup.
The piece begins with the titular redhead, one Rhonda Russell, a seemingly stable and content suburban wife whose world is shattered when her husband Graham calls from his office to announce he’s moved out. Rhonda puts two and two together and — with the help of a best frenemy neighbor (the brunette), concludes that Graham has taken up with a blonde floozy who works at a discount jewelry store at the mall.
What ensues is an act of violence that defies credibility once the character of Graham is introduced. He’s so loathsome and unattractive it’s tough to imagine anyone flipping out in a jealous rage over him.
But Graham’s utter undesirability aside, the act, which would be a major plot spoiler if revealed, takes place and sets up the balance of “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” as it examines a single, life-changing moment of rage that impacts an ever-widening circle of people.
There’s no denying Staples’ command of the seven characters she plays with such skill, effortlessly moving from compassionate lesbian doctor to skank-next-door with the ease of a chameleon. Directed by Joe Handreddy, Staples gives the performance of someone acing an acting class — which is all very impressive, but doesn’t necessarily make for a great play.
There’s a second bit of clever theatrics at work in “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead.” That’s the ever-shifting perspective the audience has on events. What’s viewed as fact by one person turns out to be another’s fiction.
While there’s no debate over what Rhonda Russell did when she snapped in a mall food court, the circumstances surrounding her actions vary depending on who’s talking. And while these multiple perspectives are somewhat interesting, there is, arguably, a bit too much talking. Several of the monologues would benefit greatly from a bit of editing. The entire show feels like it could be wrapped up in 90 minutes rather than the two hours it takes to do so.
In the end, “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” is an entertaining exercise in acting skills, but even Staples’ impressive performance can’t entirely mask the fact that without that performance, the story here just doesn’t hold much dramatic tension.