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Written & Directed by Carey Harrison
Designed by Claire Lambe
Reviewed by Larry Litt June 13, 2010
British university student theater societies are renowned for their sketch and parody performances. Justly famous "Monty Python's Flying Circus" started out as a college troupe, continuing on as we know to universal comedic brilliance.
Playwright/director/actor Carey Harrison brings this rarely seen tradition to America at the historic Byrdcliffe Theater in Woodstock with "Magus" a tragicomedy of broad literary historical proportions. Its conceit is that Franz Kafka is dreaming of historical literary and political figures that somehow influence him and his sister Ottla in the 20th Century.
In the role of Miguel Cervantes, (Trey Kay) succeeds in convincing us that the Spanish military and literary traditions are an ongoing argument with a glibly annoying, bisexual English playwright named William Shakespeare (Wiley Basho Gorn). Their personal and poetic battles may have driven Kafka mad as they did me. Their constant status quarrels were amusing as set pieces of sketch comedy.
Edward Kelley, the English alchemist and friend of Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth the First tutor and one time confidant is brought to life as a simpering, fearful, broke old man by actor Phillip Levine. Levine's Kelley amused me with his fear of discovery when he's blackmailed by Shakespeare, as well as amazed me with his mock magical rituals. Emperor Rudolf the Second (Mark Thomas Kanter) is a predatory, imperious, fickle monarch in need of tremendous amounts of cash to battle the Turks in 1589. He brings stentorian voiced Dr. John Dee (Carey Harrison) into his court to produce gold through the alchemical arts. Rudolf is suspicious of Dee and Kelley's ritual results, nothing much comes of the exercise, just marital estrangement.
Sickly Franz Kafka is reduced to servitude and longing for his sister's mental health. Yes, the play takes place in one of Rudolf's former castles, now a mental institution. Therefore nothing is at it seems and anything goes for the deluded.
Harrison is a very good parodist, however he wasted the three female actresses he barely included in the night's madness. Luscious Kris Lundberg as Dee's unappreciated wife and target of Shakespeare's desires is merely a statuesque figure. Pathetically escapist and beautiful OttlaKafka youthfully acted by angel faced Brittany Sokolowski is limited to a maddening desire to be Rudolf's wife than to display her madness. Her body language told me more about her condition than her speeches. Nearly invisible but strongly projecting her presence was Deborah Temple as Joan Kelley, wife of the alchemist. Watching Ms Temple was to see an actress longing to scream at her husband's folly, directly projected through her facial expressions.
I left thinking this was a very accomplished academic exercise by a well-rounded scholarly playwright. He balanced the characters, showing us all that we could get many of the literary jokes. Only one thing turns me against this performance, the gratuitous Auschwitz references and ending. Not only does it not make sense, it panders and manipulates the audience. Mr. Harrison, "Never Again."
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