When you live in a small town and two drama groups open fall productions on the same weekend, it’s not a conflict of interest. It’s a theater festival.
The Fort Lewis College Department of Theatre and Merely Players have scheduled their fall plays directly opposite each other. Together, “Pinter X 2” and “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” demonstrate two strands of contemporary drama, one dark and one light.
The early Pinter one-acts were written in the 1950s and illustrate an important 20th century contribution to modern drama: Theatre of the Absurd. Spawned by two world wars, the philosophy of The Absurd lies behind a trove of literature, drama and film. It’s a cold world view where the search for meaning smacks into dark, grim realities. Harold Pinter’s plays fit right in and pose situations that are both dark and puzzling. You have to fill in the blanks.
“Pinter is a good choice for our students in terms of exposure to the literature of theatre,” said Felicia Meyer, assistant professor of drama at FLC. “We knew we wanted student directors for the start of our season, and planned on two one-acts by one playwright. We read lots of material, and when we got to Pinter, we just felt it would be a good challenge.”
Senior theatre major Alicia Aron will direct “The Dumb Waiter,” a taut play about two hit men passing the time before targeting someone else. Gus, a fidgety complainer (Wiley Horan), and Ben (Benjamin Reece) offset each other and use Pinter’s trademark silences to heighten tension.
Meyer directs “The Lover,” a three-character mind game about marriage. Gus Palma and Ari Peterson will play opposite Isabella Gray in this three-hander that shimmers with menace and mystery. Full of questions, accusations and disguised anger, the dialogue is what’s come to be known as Pinteresque.
Pinter’s mid-20th century works have been revived recently in London and on Broadway, creating a sense of foreboding unmatched in theater history. Here’s a chance to see a piece of this chapter of modern drama.
In contrast, Merely Players travels to the land of comic playwright Ken Ludwig via a classic Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. “Baskerville” is Ludwig’s retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Five actors play 40 roles in this kooky contemporary caper that’s been on Broadway and theaters around the country. The MP production features Jason Lithgoe as Sherlock Holmes, Jeff Cordell as Dr. Watson, with Joey Panelli, Ian Thomas and Katie Dillelberger swapping roles faster than you can snap off a Deerstalker cap.
When Holmes learns about the odd death of Sir Charles Baskerville, he’s fascinated: “I like it,” Holmes says to Watson in the script. “There’s a feverish quality to this unlikely tale that appeals to me.”
Playwright Ludwig is an American original who has authored 24 plays and musicals, including “A Comedy of Terrors,” “Moon over Buffalo” and “Lend Me a Tenor,” which won three Tony Awards and morphed into an award-winning musical.
“Baskerville” will be performed in a found space, true to the Players’ practice of finding unusual venues. This fall, it’s a barn a little south of town on Mama Llama Lane. When you buy your tickets, you get instructions. It has only 60 seats, so the run has recently been extended to Oct. 14.
Two dark one-acts at FLC and a comic parody by Merely Players may be poles apart, but they illuminate the stunning range of modern theater.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.