Sep '02 [Home]

Other Arts: Theatre

Bryden MacDonald's Divinity Bash/Nine Lives
Pantheon Theatre, NY; Director:  Austin Green

Divinity at the Pantheon
by Aileen Reyes

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The deities of an entirely new mythology passed all too briskly through the doors of the Pantheon Theatre on July 22, gracing a hot summer day with talk of booze, drugs, prostitution, and corporate betrayal in the form of Canadian Bryden MacDonald's play, Divinity Bash/Nine Lives.

These are not the gods and heroes of your everyday Sistine Chapel variety however. MacDonald seems to have endowed each of his "beautiful losers" with a facility for philosophy, a recognition of beauty and truth, which romanticizes the underworld of junkies, rent-boys, and transsexuals to the point of exaltation. He almost doesn't get away with it. Almost. What saves his gods from theological (and theatrical) extinction is his use of rapidly moving, non-linear vignettes which takes on a ritualistic feel as the play progresses.

His gods are ultimately human, donning their flaws and their desperations openly. All this, as we know, is what make gods (and characters) sympathetic. The play faltered most in MacDonald's overindulgence in wordy pontification, which did his characters an unexcused disservice more often than not. His chaotic style often brought the dramatic momentum to a stand still. However, the forced feel of his ending was offset by moments of lyrical beauty underscored by an over-used Barber Adagio.

From the very first fifteen minutes of Divinity Bash, McDonald takes us on the spiral of his Nine Lives as they intertwine self-examination with a perchance for staring at the horizon of things unseen. Aided by the clean, focused direction of Austin Green (who also played alien abductee, Liam), making his directorial debut and a genuinely impressive ensemble cast, this staged reading cried out for a full run.

The play opens with lead character Albert, played with a natural vigor by Matt Walton, introduced to us as a "suit" who loses his position to a weasel of an underling named Marty. Marty's quest for corporate comfort is brought to us by Brad Thomason, who is exceptional playing a role that could easily have been lost amongst the other more flamboyant characters. His character's search for the perfect work of "art" is pitch-perfect. Mr. Thomason underscores Marty's frightened excitement while intermittently providing us with humorous glimpses into Marty's version of guilt over having acquired his position through the elimination of his friend and mentor, Albert.

MacDonald's extremely colorful characters are then introduced to us in rapid succession. Anastasia, a drunken dominatrix and Lamb, her loyal friend, are well played by Joanna Bonaro and Scott James. They fall well into place as they let their characters seep out of their pores to the point where you could almost smell the liquor on their breaths. Ms. Bonaro brought a sense of poignancy to her role while Mr. James' boy-prostitute Lamb tore up the stage with unexpected conviction. Another little odd couple of the play were Myrna and Snake, caught in the monotony of a long-term relationship. Myrna is the girl with nothing to wear, who gladly exchanges a closet full of items for the simple comfort of her bathrobe. Snake is the janitor who questions love (and his sexuality) between gigs singing karaoke. Played vigorously by Gina Ferranti, Myrna is the example of how a great actress can make a seemingly small role ten times its size in text. Playing Snake, Jeff Auer, matched her presence with professionalism and a quiet intensity. His slightly raspy voice, coupled with a performance that was never forced, gave constant evidence of his range as an actor despite the hum-drum normalcy of his role. It is a shame Hollywood doesn't open its doors to more deserving talents such as these.

Also making a self-discovery is Liam, the alien abductee, played by Austin Green, who delivered his tedious monologues with a wide energy and a spark in his eye. Glorious, the cross-dressing character of the play was well matched by actor Kendrell Bowman. His charisma was beyond your typical drag queen measures and he had the legs to match.

This brings us to the Evangeline of Anna Kepe, the most mysterious character of the lot. Evangeline is a gypsy who wanders the streets with her invisible blue dog (one of the many metaphors of the play). Ms. Kepe displayed a tremendous glow and precision intensity that left the audience hanging on her every word. This is an outstanding actress, one who we should all see more of.

It would be interesting to see what future Vex productions will be like once this group gets on its feet. This first effort, however, which was well cast and well directed showed plenty of promise for this young, inspired group of artists. They gave us theatre that was well worth the price of admission, something rare, even for the Great White Way.

Pantheon Theatre, 303 W. 42nd St., 2nd Floor NY, NY 10036.