Category: Archive

On the Aisle: Abdication

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Wouldn’t it be splendid, he asks, if the United States were to surrender its much-prized independence and return to the protection of the British Empire, automatically becoming the crown’s largest and most significant colony?
Magnus, however, has plans of his own, at least tentatively, since he is seriously considering abdicating and turning the country over to the diverse factions he feels ultimately run the kingdom anyhow, despite his efforts to alter the situation.
He had considered resigning, but his cabinet members, unilaterally, rejected the term “resignation,” whereas they could live with “abdication” as a substitute.
It was, of course, only seven years after the advent of “The Apple Cart” that England’s King Edward actually did abdicate in order to, as he put it, “marry the woman I love.”
In giving “The Apple Cart” the subtitle “A Political Extravaganza,” Shaw was laying his cards on the table, and putting to rest any question about what his intentions were in writing this particular play.
In a sense, the playwright was writing himself into a corner, and insuring, unconsciously but effectively, that the play would be produced as infrequently as has been the case in the 75 years that have elapsed since its debut.
For one thing, the long first act is entirely concerned with affairs of state, and the play’s two heroines, the king’s mistress, Orinthia, and his queen, Jemima, do not appear until, respectively, the second and third acts.
The 50-year-old Theater Ten Ten has done an admirable job of overcoming a considerable number of the play’s built-in obstacles in a stylishly appealing production.
Ten Ten is the sort of “keep-your-day-job” endeavor in which amateur actors perform alongside professionals, or at least in tandem with individuals sufficiently skilled to have become members of Actors Equity Association.
In this case, four members of the nine-actor cast are Equity people, while the remaining five are not. Since Shaw created no fewer than 14 characters for his “Political Extravaganza,” an unwieldy number for any organization, professional or amateur, to cope with, the present production contains three actors doubling, and, amazingly enough, one actress dashing on and off, changing costumes, and reappearing in the blink of an eye as a third character.
Theater Ten Ten could be said to be the urban equivalent of the kind of avidly dedicated “little theater” groups that flourish from coast to coast and border to border, with participants doing what they do because they love the act of doing it.
The word “amateur,” after all, has its roots in the Latin verb meaning “to love,” and the current production of “The Apple Cart” typifies what can be so enjoyable in the form of impassioned theater so effectively satirized in the Irish-America playwright George Kelly’s “The Torchbearers.”
This seldom-produced, but nevertheless rewarding flowering of the Dublin-born Bernard Shaw’s tongue-in-cheek glee once served, albeit briefly, as a Broadway vehicle for the late Maurice Evans, and a recording exists of the play’s second act, with Noel Coward and Margaret Leighton as, respectively, Magnus and Orinthia.
That middle act is, by leagues, the most appealing and the most actable segment of “The Apple Cart,” and is where Theater Ten Ten’s production, directed by David Scott, shines most brightly, with Annalisa Loeffler, a vision in an orangish peignoir, playfully taunting Nicholas Martin-Smith’s stoically reasonable, logical Magnus. Loeffler, as it happens, doubles as the production’s dialect coach.
The enthusiastic Paula Hoza scores as the bubbly Postmistress General, Amanda Postlethwaite, and then returns to double as the slightly imperious Queen Jemima.
David Tillistrand briefly rules the royal roost as that bumptious American Ambassador, after having done yeoman’s service earlier as Home Secretary, Bert Balbus.
Andrew Clateman is effective as, first, Pamphilius, Magnus aide, and then, in the third act, as Foreign Secretary Nick Crassus.
In the triple, Elizabeth Fountain appears first as Magnus’s private secretary, Sempronius, then as Alice, the Princess Royal, and, finally, bearded and walking with a cane, the aged Pliny, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
As Bill Boanerges, President of the Board of Trade, Ron Sanborn is richly reminiscent of another of Shaw’s vivid working-class characters, namely Alfred Dolittle, father of the heroine of 1914’s “Pygmalion.”
Rounding out director Scott’s energetic cast are Damian Buzzerio as the loquacious, opinionated prime minister, Joseph Proteus, and Christiane Young, ideally cast as Magnus’s imposing dreadnought of a Powermistress General, Lysistrata.
Since Shaw placed “The Apple Cart” on “a lovely summer day” in “the future,” Kristin Foti’s set design is a platform, brightly lighted by George Gountas, a black-and-white checkerboard expanse featuring pots and urns of flowers, hauled on and off as the scene shifts from the King and Queen’s London palace to Orinthia’s boudoir and, finally, to a terrace of the royal residence.
Viviane Galloway’s costumes, ranging from the formal garb of the royal cabinet, including Scots regalia for the Prime Minister, to Orinthia’s elegant nightwear, are both appropriate and, following Shaw’s dictum, slightly and suitably futuristic.
“The Apple Cart” is slightly lopsided, with its protracted and politically calibrated first act, its zippy and charmingly romantic but brief second act, capped by a punchy third act, sparked by the visit of the American ambassador.
To put it succinctly, the play’s rather tedious first act could be beneficially trimmed with a lawn mower, making way for the work’s more swiftly pace remainder.
Director Scott and Theater Ten Ten have probably decided to do “The Apple Cart” in its entirety because it is so infrequently produced that most audiences are extremely unlikely ever to have encountered it until now.
A few members of the audience at a recent performance departed during the intermission, which has, logically enough, been placed between the first and second acts.
Fleeing the subterranean space, adjacent to the Park Avenue Christian Church, where Theater Ten Ten presents its plays, would mean missing the Shavian best of “The Apple Cart,” when the work brightens and picks up its pace.

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