Bah Beyou Buhoh Beyo

Scenes from a marriage; tales from when puppets ruled the earth

Jeffrey Hatcher's Mercy of a Storm begins with George Holmburg (Steve Hendrickson) conducting the last-minute preparations for an assignation--a furtive one, of course, since that's the only way to go in such matters. Overt, well-publicized assignations have never enjoyed widespread popularity, except maybe on college campuses, after Peter, Paul, and Mary concerts, and in certain parts of northern Ontario. George arrives in his country club's tackily furnished pool house with all the tools of the tryster's trade, circa 1945: a bottle of champagne, two glasses, a 78 of "There's a Small Hotel," and some mysterious suitcaselike thing that he hides under the sofa. George is a stately man in his 50s and looks handsome in his double-breasted tuxedo, despite the fact that the trousers bring to mind one of my favorite poems (Rilke, I think): "The flood is over, the land is dry/So why are you wearing your pants so high?"

Then Zanovia (Carolyn Pool) walks in. She's about half George's age, an unnatural blonde with bold carriage and an air of terminal skepticism--the sort of woman who might inspire the members of my canasta club to use the phrase "hot tamale" in a metaphorical fashion. She stoutly demands that George "prove it," the meaning of which I'll withhold along with most of the play's other secrets. I must reveal, however, the play's first surprise, which is that George and Zanovia aren't slipping away from their spouses, but rather are married to each other, at least until their lawyers can sort out the divorce settlement.

The two-character Mercy takes place on New Year's Eve, and unfolds in real time between 10:00 p.m. and the first moments of 1946. George, we learn, is a farm boy turned wealthy insurance tycoon. Zanovia is his second wife. She's also the daughter of the Holmburgs' late maid, and because of her humble origins, Polish ancestry, and frequent disregard for decorum, Zanovia has been shunned both by George's society friends and his unseen but apparently ghastly daughter.

Parental advisory warning: This show may contain witty marital repartee
Janine Harris; courtesy of Florida Stage
Parental advisory warning: This show may contain witty marital repartee

In its depiction of class divisions, marital turmoil, and the backstabbing of small-town elites during the December holidays, this local playwright's Cinderella story seems to owe a debt to John O'Hara's 1934 novel, Appointment in Samarra. It also recalls the banter-rich, hard-boiled films of that same era. Both the script and the performances (especially Pool's) are highly stylized, occasionally to a fault, and there's a steady stream of impossibly clever gibes and coolly delivered retorts/advances ("You wanna dust me for prints?"). Director Michael Bigelow Dixon's production is actorly and unreal--either larger or smaller than life--but emotionally absorbing all the same. As George, Hendrickson suggests rectitude even when he's being deceitful, confidence even in his insecurity. Pool is seductive and droll, and she seems to relish Hatcher's best jokes like they're stiff gin and tonics after a hot day on the links.

 

Puppetry Arts Studio'sMercurius Lumen exists in a creepy, pre-historical dreamland. Like Jimmy Castor, what it does is go back, way back, before you could buy refrigerators in colors other than white, before civilization, before language. It contains no dialogue and few words. One of the play's earliest lines, loosely transcribed, goes something like this: "Bah beyou buhoh beyo auugh weeoh."

Conceived and directed by puppeteer Danile Polnau, the show uses actors and a variety of puppet styles--rod, shadow, Bunraku--to advance an elliptical story line that's more interested in archetypes of human interaction than in narrative. It follows Hermes as he wanders Jung-like through layers of Earth and memory. A work in progress, it's sometimes beautiful, sometimes eerie, and sometimes deathly dull--all of which makes me cautiously excited about Polnau's plan to turn the show into a four-hour epic. The pan-ethnic musical accompaniment is appropriately strange and otherworldly. When the didgeridoo player gives voice to an apparently dyspeptic macrocephalic monster-puppet, one wonders if didgeridoos weren't indeed invented to restore our hazy recollections of ancient dyspeptic macrocephalic monsters.

 
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