Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Theatre of NOTE
Through May 20
Red Helen, by Jennifer Barclay, is another strange programming choice from Theatre of NOTE. What could they be thinking? I love a good puppet-like comedy, but this play — for live actors — might best be thought of as an overlong puppet sketch.
Barclay tips us off, allusively, by having one of her characters mention (at least three times) that he’s Romanian, bringing immediately to mind a primary forerunner of the play’s grotesquerie, Eugene Ionesco (French-Romanian satrap of the Collège de Pataphysique).
However, in Ionesco’s darkness, there was always a wormy glow — definite illumination in a cold light. Alfred Jarry was his god. His despair was also distinctly courteous (watch Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder perform the transformation scene from Rhinoceros, and you’ll get the idea). Ionesco, in a late interview quoting Georges Duhamel, said, “Humor is the courtesy of despair.”
In brief: Helen (Lynn Odell) holds abusive court in the residence above her failing steak-house restaurant. The business is managed by her daughters Astrid (Channing Sargent) and Max (Amanda Celine Miller). The absent Father (“Your father married me for my strip-loin”) is represented by postcards that arrive from various locations — Serbia, Vienna, Verona, Stockholm. Uncle Ted (another off-stage male figure), has been stealing from the restaurant’s receipts, according to Astrid. Uncle Ted, as both daughters insist, is also guilty of having sexually abused both girls throughout their childhood — and we might surmise that this may have something to do with the bizarre games of denial played out by Helen in the opening scene: She shuts up both daughters by bullying filibusters, the singing of a nursery-rhyme about a sewing-machine, and forced attitudes of snuggling with the girls.
But all that is an opening gambit. Because next we have the arrival of a third daughter, Bebe (Sigi Gradwohl), and her Romanian fiancé, Skip (Greg Nussen), who will do anything for a green-card… The remainder of the entertainment concerns the struggle of the three women for control of pliable Skip, under the lyrical, cryptic progress of a certain disease. The end-game involves a meat freezer.
These may be good actors but they are not comedians. Direction is by Bill Voorhees. The production design is serviceable.
Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; in repertory with “Supper” by Kiyomura — contact theater for performance schedule — through May 20. (323) 856-8611, http://theatreofnote.com. Running time: 70 minutes without intermission.