by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Bad Habit Productions
Boston Center for the Arts, South End, Boston
March 18 – April 2, 2017
With Michael Underhill (Simon), Mara Elissa Palma (Cynthia), Brandon Milardo (Hound), Damon Singletary (Birdboot), Bob Mussett (Moon), Catherine Christie (Drudge), Jade Guerra (Felicity), Robin Smith (Magnus)
In the play within the play, various deaths occur in the household at Muldoon Manor in which Simon (Michael Underhill), Felicity (Jade Guerra), Cynthia (Mara Elissa Palma), Mrs. Drudge (Catherine Christie) and Magnus (Robin Smith) hold sway, while critics Moon (Bob Mussett) and Birdboot (Damon Singletary) hover on the theatrical sidelines itching to get involved. Eventually, Inspector Hound (Brandon Milardo) gets involved and starts the inquisitive balls rolling.
What a fabulous, wonderfully acted and directed production of this Stoppard gem. With carefully crafted accents and intnetionally histrionic gestures, this cast manages to convey, with grace and facility, a sense of this crazy household and the wild goings on that erupt when the theater critics begin to throw their weight around.
The genius of the Stoppard play is its capacity to be entirely ridiculous and entertaining at the same time that it explores philosophically the boundary between representation and reality, critic and production. Without getting heavy or overbearing for a second, the Stoppard script manages to raise the issues with pointedness and humor.
The same theme arises later on in The Real Thing (1982), one of Stoppard’s masterpieces, and it does so with greater consequence and weightiness. But the anticipation of that artfully written treatment of the relationship between the stage and the lives lived around it in that later play are delightfully raised in this earlier one.
The ensemble for this production is really wonderful.
As Magnus, Robin Javonne Smith is a contained powerhouse, and as Mrs. Drudge, Catherine Lee Christie is uproariously sullen. Mara Elissa Palma as Cynthia and Jade Guerra as Felicity provide durably elegant complexities, and Brandon Milardo holds it adroitly together as Inspector Hound. The critics, Bob Musset as Moon and Damon Singletary as Birdboot, flap their critical wings and fly, and Michael Underhill rounds out the efforts as the dashingly effete and suspicious Simon.
Accents, gestures and collective moves are all so well done here and contribute, in the compact eighty minutes without intermission, to a wonderfully effective, boisterously refined, entertainment.
Sadly, at the end of this season, after ten years, Bad Habit Productions is closing down. The current production is a wonderful emblem of the best quality of their work and a testament to the company’s many contributions over the years.