Talking Heads and Talking, Talking Heads. Two one-act plays by Alan Bennett and Nick Kidd. Directed by Nick Kidd.
The British are coming! The British are Here!!!
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
At the Copeke Theatre Company thereís been a takeover by the Brits. Carl Ritchie, the Producing Artistic Director has invited an old school chum from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to take center stage for this mid-winter production and she has arrived fully loaded, with a production of "Bed Among the Lentils" from Alan Bennettís collection of monodramas and a commentary play written for her by Nick Kidd about an actress cast in the same play. If that sounds complicated, wait. This is the sort of evening that requires a glossary and Ritchie has provided one in the program.
Both plays are serious and both are funny. Each one deals with a woman caught in a world of her own making. What both authors have done, and in part the complimentary nature of the evening depends upon this, is bring to life a woman living out her life to the best of her limited abilities; those abilities being limited only by each womanís own sense of self-worth.
Bennett is at his comic best in his short thirty-four minute play about Susan, the wife of an Episcopal minister, known to his friends as Mrs. Vicar, who suffers from both boredom and a lack of belief to alcoholism and a need for affection. In a few brief scenes we learn about her life, her compulsions, her disdain, her appetites, her needs and her interests and her complacency. She is trapped in the world she has made for herself. She is, for all her complaints and her foolishness, endearing. We never cry for her, but we laugh along with her at the world she inhabits.
Kidd introduces us to a woman who ought to be able to manage her life better than the character she is hired to play. What makes Sophie so very interesting is her inability to comprehend the lines Bennett has written for her to say, the lines that draw the closest parallels between her own life and that of Susan, the woman she is playing. It isnít until her final performance that she begins to realize the depth of her attraction to the part. We see what she never does see, however, the truth about her relationship to the woman written by Alan Bennett. They could be sisters; they could be one.
It is that undiscovered similarity that makes Sophie complete. The more we learn about her, the more we see her with her husband, with her friends, with her director, the more we come to understand the dilemma faced by Susan in the earlier play. Susan has taken the next steps; Sophie probably never will go that way because somehow another part will always come along - even if she has to wait six months or a year for her next role.
Leda Hodgson as Susan
Leda Hodgson as Sophie
Leda Hodgson is the actress who pulls this all together on stage in Copake. Her Susan is a pitiful creature, meek and quiet and painfully aware of her own pain. Hodgson leads us on a walk through her environment, her snooty neighbors and parishioners, her superior husband and his associates in the Anglican community. Some of the jokes are at the Churchís expense, some at Godís. Her sense of humor is what keeps her alive and keeps us going as well. For Sophie, Hodgson adds lipstick and an informality that is the hallmark, we are led to believe, of a sometime actress, sometime receptionist wife of a successful banker who does not hold her in high degree. He tolerates her theatrical endeavors. He mistreats her, then holds her up as an idol before his coworkers and friends. His attitude must confuse her, and Hodgson adds a true sense of dismay in her dealings with him. Whatís fun here is that Sophie never notices how much like the husband in the play her own husband has become. Hodgson makes this lack of awareness so believable that an astute audience member might wonder if indeed she IS Sophie and if the second half of the evening might not be autobiographical instead of a fiction. Thatís a tribute to the artist on stage. The production is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. Two designers from England have brought the concept to Copake where it has been executed by Joe Sledz. Kidd directs both plays with a stalwart sense. There is nothing on stage more interesting than the player and her characters. Another director might have found more interesting paths and patterns for her to wander, but at least the inner plays emerge, even when the trappings of theatricality are missing. This is an interesting, amusing and eye-opening combination of plays for a single actress. You only have until March 11 to take it all in. See it twice if you need to do so. It would be worth the time.
Talking Heads plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through March 11. Tickets are $15-18 (general admission), Seniors, Students and Groups $12-15, Children $10 and may be purchased at Dad's Copake Diner in Copake or reservations may be made by calling The Copake Theatre Company @ 518.325.1234 All shows are at the historic Grange in Copake, located on Empire Road (off of Route 7-A) in the center of town. For more information go to their website at www.copaketheatrecompany.com.