Daemons - A Suite of One Acts, by Archibald MacLeish, Max Freund, and Bertolt Brecht. Directed by members of the company.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"In the Cyprus grove of forever waiting..."
In October theater companies often turn to the dark side, the unusual, the horror-inflected moments. They compose theatrical turns from the elementals. Walking the Dog Theater is no exception, it seems, with their current production of three one-act plays without intermission, but including a stroll about the imposing structure of the Bassilica Industria opposite the train station in Hudson, New York. In their show Daemons we are confronted by the murder of one brother by another, the death-throe struggle of two people devoured by their own lust and their sense of cannibalism and the emotional conflicts between a beggar mourning the loss of his dog and a man who would be the emperor people love whose own rigidity prevents such emotions. All of this happens in an hour and a half and includes a serpent.
I loved the serpent. I loved the salting of a human arm. I loved the robotic grin of a ruler who wants love within power. I enjoyed the change of pace, or rather the pace of change as the audience moved to a different part of the building for the third play. This company takes chances, tries different sorts of things and thatís great and they have cultivated a local audience that goes with their flow. The three pieces they are presenting through the end of this month are challenging and thatís not such a bad thing at the beginning of the drift into a somnambulant season.
Archibald MacLeish was a world-class poet, a friend of other great American poets, who had one major success as a playwright, the biblical "J.B." based on the book of Job. In "Nobodaddy," the play being done in Hudson, the author reaches further back into the bible for his characters and situations. In three scenes we are Adam, Eve and the serpent, then Eve, Cain and Abel. The romance between the serpent and Adam is gloriously played out while Eveís frustration at not being the serpentís equal is obvious. Her morning after moments are fascinating and the play-out of her romance, as she witnesses the confrontation between her sons is devastating.
David Anderson plays both Adam and Cain and the lineage is clear. Cain is his fatherís headstrong substitute in an adult world. Anderson takes the anxiety of his Adam and converts it into the anger and resentment that Cain feels. With no serpent to confront, Andersonís Cain has few options. His surliness grows into murderous need and it is fascinating to watch.
Benedicta Bertau plays the two faces of Eve with equal ease. Her mother love is stronger than her seductive love, but each emotion has its outcome. Aaron J. March plays the good son, Abel, as though heíd had a vision of the love generation of the 1970s. The contrast to Cain is overwhelming and makes Cainís payout seem reasonable somehow.
In Max Freundís "Reflections of Daemons," the second play which follows on the heels of the MacLeish, two people avoiding the sin of eating other humans confront one another in hideous morass of emotional trauma. If anything in this evening of theater is geared to make someone uncomfortable, it is this reflection of how low people can sink in their withdrawal from humanity as they struggle to survive. Bertau and March circle one another, scream, wail, moan in their deeply riveted guts, and prevent us from knowing the people behind the needs. Thatís not their fault. It is in the writing.
After this morbid confrontation the audience is led to a new place, a mythical place where the oriental and middle eastern combine to create a world where it is possible to bow down to a beggar and ignore a high-born official. Bertolt Brechtís stinging comedy, "The Beggar, or The Dead Dog" provides many opportunities for philosophy, socialism and political savvy to intermingle in a light mood. David Anderson plays the Emperor whose impact is more canned applause than real while Patrick Doyle, the serpent of the first play, gets to turn the tide as the Hajj figure whose rhymes have left him as he waits for a boy who wonít bring much more food and he mourns the loss of his dog who provided him with warmth and unconditional love.
Doyle is brilliant in this piece, never once overplaying his role. He wrings more sincerity from Brechtís words than might seem possible from a reading of the script, and he manages, in his departure from his own place in the square, to leave behind a trail of half-moved tears. Anderson, as the ruler of his world, is locked into a tin-woodman suit and a forced smile that makes him an easy target for the abuse of the other man, and yet encourages our sympathy for his lack of more human qualities.
In this world of odd places, the three plays combined in "Daemons" make a new one, a place of theatrical confusions. Wendy G. Frost has created set worlds that confine and eliminate, simultaneously, the real world we know. The lighting by Deena Pewtherer enhances this vision and the costumes by Aaron J. March work as well as costumes can in these places.
This is not the most satisfying of evenings, but the common thread that weaves the plays together is definitely October. As things change they become more obvious and apparent and in this evening of one-acts the company has managed to move that October concept indoors. From the emotional genetics of Adam and Cain to the idiotic rhetoric of a ruler in the East, the obvious location of the biblical Eden, through the struggle to survive of a humanity in mankind, this show has movement and thrust. You just have to grin, bear it, and think October.
David Anderson as Adam, Patrick Doyle as Serpent; photo: Daniel Region
Benedicta Bertau as Woman; photo: Daniel Region
Patrick Doyle as Beggar; photo: Daniel Region
Daemons plays at the Bassilica Industria, 110 South Front Street in Hudson, New York through October 31. Tickets range from $10- $22. For information, schedules and tickets call the box office at Walking the Dog Theater at 518-755-1716 or go to their website at www.wtdtheater.org.