The Good, the Bad, and the Different

Tue 26th November – Thu 5th December 2013

reviews

Zack Wellin

at 00:04 on 28th Nov 2013

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Briony Waite’s The Good, the Bad and the Different is set in the USA in the McCarthy era. It is mainly concerned with sketching out the developing relationship of the two protagonists, Peter and Olivia, while juxtaposing their pleasant interchanges against the grand frame of greater political and philosophical concerns.

Peter is a philosophy student in a world of ideas, detached from the real world, while Olivia is an ardent activist, both a communist and a feminist, working desperately to alter the course of history. These aspects of their characters point towards what may be the central concern of the play; the struggle of ideology. From the other side, we see Edgar (a fictional representation of FBI director Edgar Hoover) and Clyde (Clyde Tolson, associate director) discussing the realities of their own ideological concerns, as they progress in their work of denouncing “un-American” dissidents.

There is a pleasing harmony in the narrative structure of the first half of the play, as the dialogues between these two opposing character pairs develop together. From the off, we are rooting for the students, and the character of Edgar, by contrast, almost becomes something of a pantomime baddie. He begins the play as a one-dimensional character, articulating clichés such as “honest to god Americans” and denouncing the evils of communism before suggesting a round of golf. As the narrative progresses, however, his character is given room to develop some internal conflict as his role of insidious foil for the students is taken over by the Senator. Kenneth Bell fills this role admirably and is particularly magnetic when he has the stage to himself. He commands genuine terror with his rousing paranoia, and conveys the brutish aspects of the character with credible weight. One great moment of tragicomic drunk oratory conveys poignantly the ridiculousness and the genuine horror both of the figure of McCarthy, and the regime he presided over. Danann McAleer and Katie King as Peter and Olivia are also very watchable. They create a believable physical chemistry between the characters, and their intimacy with each other develops convincingly over the course of the play. McAleer is at certain points let down slightly by the otherwise exemplary script when he is asked to recite lines such as “I’m true to my inner light, as Socrates would say”, which seem a little trite coming from the mouth of someone so evidently immersed in philosophy as he is.

The heavyweight content of the play is usually treated well however, and meaningful discussions are raised with disarming regularity on a variety of disparate topics. The narrator figure of the play, a lecturer, frames the narrative well with regular scholarly interjections on subjects such as women’s rights, communism, god, utilitarianism, the ethics of the atom bomb, Thomas Moore, the psyche and materialism. These monologues often relate directly to the content of the main narrative which they introduce, and Ian Kane, as the professor, conveys the subtle humour and genuine fascination we would expect from such a character.

The supporting cast do their jobs well, and the group scenes are particularly well directed. In one speech, the observing characters turn their backs to the audience, and we become part of the crowd. In another, golf is depicted in a comically stylised manner, and is a delight to watch.

The stage itself is simply furnished, fitting for so small a cast, and each prop projects the particulars of a certain environment well. A round table with two chairs immediately creates a café, a red tablecloth turns the stage into a restaurant. On a pedantic note, American accents occasionally slip, and what seem like a few mistaken interjections occur, but these do very little to spoil the overall of the pleasure of this play. The later scenes become particularly powerful and moving, and they form a good contrast with the earlier carefree scenes. During the interval I happened to talk to the owner of the theatre who described their aim to create “an open door to everybody”, and this performance is no exception to that ethos. We might describe it as a cerebral play with a real beating heart.

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