PHAEDRA a WOW at Shotgun Players

Catherine (Catherine Castellanos) is given a kiss on the cheek by her husband Antonio (Keith Burkland) in Shotgun Player's Phaedra now through October 23.

PHAEDRA written by Adam Bock and directed by Rose Riordan. The Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley. 510-841-6500 or September 24 – October 23, 2011.

PHAEDRA a WOW at Shotgun Players

Adam Bock and the fledgling Shotgun Players wowed San Francisco with a production of Swimming in the Shallows in the minuscule cellar stage at the Rhino Theatre back in the year 2000. Thus began the love affair between Bock and Shotgun who have done it again with of Bock’s modern day version of Racine’s Phaedra that opened as part of Shotgun’s 20th season. Get thee hence to see this stunning staging and be transfixed for 90 minutes (including an intermission) of brilliant theatre.

Whereas Swimming in the Shallows had a set created of “wooden box and a tarp”, this time around they have a magnificent set by the talented Nina Bell that alone is worth the price of admission. Bock’s script deserves nothing less and is an absolute gem given a splendid performance by a dedicated cast.

There is no need to know the Greek legend to appreciate Bock’s adaptation, except to know that human nature has not changed since the time of the ancient Greeks. He uses minor form Greek choruses by having each player give a monolog externalizing their inner thoughts that are specific to the action and blend seamlessly into the timeline of the plot. Olibia (Trish Mulholland), the long-time and trusted maid, is first to set the scene and she has bee assigned the play’s humor. Yes, the play is a tragedy (not in the classic sense) but Bock always seems to balances his plays with humor intertwined with the drama.

Antonio (Keith Burkland) a prominent judge is in a loveless second marriage to obsessive compulsive Catherine (Catherine Castellanos). Paulie (Patrick Alaprone), the son/stepson is returning from a drug rehab center back into their home and inexplicably is to have the room of his sister who is away at a private school. Catherine’s rigid resistance to the return of Paulie becomes terrifying evident when the real reason for the animosity is her hidden love for her stepson. Paulie returns with Taylor (Cindy Im) whom he has met and bonded with at the rehab center stirring jealousy in his stepmother. His father is adamant that Paulie not associate with her, further driving a wedge between father and son. The scene is set for the build-up of events that are to explode with the certainty of the coming dawn.

Every actor performs with skill but it is Castellanos who is absolutely brilliant as her character descends into emotional hell with complete destruction of her compulsive behavior. Bock amplifies on William Congreve’s line from the play called "The Mourning Bride" (1697), "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." Keith Burkland’s interpretation of a bigoted, unyielding individual without compassion is pitched perfect. Patrick Alparone almost matches the torment found in Castellanos’ acting and his scenes with the lovely Cindy Im are touching. Trish Mulholland’s wry delivery and brisk entrance and exits are just right for the humor written into the part.

Written as a series of temporal scenes the staging (Rose Riordan), lighting (Lucas Krech) and sound design allow the action to flow without a break in the continuity. Between scenes, depicting passage of time there is the quiet ticking of a clock with atmospheric light cues that keep the audience riveted awaiting the coming action.

At the risk of being redundant, once again Adam Bock and Shotgun Players have put a capitalize WOW into the Bay Area theatre scene.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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