It takes a script

Despite strong performances, Global Village doesn't connect all the emotional dots

There's one moment in Global Village, the Actors' Stock Company world premiere by playwright-collaborator Tom Grady, that arrives just before intermission and knocks the breath right out of you. I won't be so thoughtless as to reveal it here. Suffice to say it's the culmination of a slow tragicomic buildup that relays how a married couple (David Stroh and Celise Moreau) flounder in their attempts to recover after their son has been fatally shot while the family vacations in Egypt.

Indeed, the whole excellent first act--which begins with another eye-opener, a videotaped shocker perpetrated by a despondent politician (Tom Lenaghen)--can be seen as both skillful character study and gradually accumulating dark mood that's released when actor Stroh, playing the devastated father, attempts to restore his loss in a most poignant way. His weeping as the lights fade pulses under your skin like little electric charges all through the rest of the evening.

The sorrowful, bumpy journey of Sam (Stroh) and Linda (Moreau) registers strongly with the audience, as does the separate but soon-to-be-intertwined relationship between Bailey (Darren Brett), a cavalier painter of questionable talent, and Cheryl (Melanie Stroh), an art gallery hanger-on who sees him as her ticket to fame. Theirs is a comic counterpoint relationship to Sam and Linda's, and both couples are sent on wild journeys by acts of creation. Sam and Linda follow their kid into life-changing tragedy, while Bailey tosses off a painting that's sold by self-appointed agent Cheryl, generating huge and probably undeserved buzz about the artist in the New York City art world.

Bailey has garnered this acclaim by using blood from the aforementioned politician's tragedy in his painting, but he's hard-pressed to repeat the shock value of that act to keep the buyers coming. Meanwhile, he hires Sam to redo his empty, echoing artist's loft and discovers that there is a tragedy in the man's recent past. You've probably already guessed what that accidental meeting will lead to.

Global Village is the Dallas swan song for director and Actors Stock Company founder Keith Oncale, who's headed to New York to pursue both teaching and stage-directing jobs. He has corralled his actors into expressing themselves in two distinct modes--an acid comedy corroding art-world pretensions ("This painting," says wannabe high-powered agent Cheryl, "is not about content, it's about the absence of content") and a muted, living-room despair when parents must decide what to do with their dead child's clothes and toys. He and his talented actors maintain these parallel tracks impressively throughout the first act, but when the lights come up on the second, playwright Tom Grady has fudged a bit on what we're hoping will be a similarly inexorable lead-up to a confrontation between an opportunistic artist and grieving parents. Bailey has leapt right into a project about Mike and Linda's dead son with little explanation about how the apathetic artist learned about their loss and what he went through to incorporate it as subject matter. A finished painting more or less begins the second act. Similarly, we experience Mike as crazy with outrage over Bailey's co-optation, but don't get the benefit of witnessing his graduation from crippling sorrow to gun-wielding rage.

The first part of Global Village works up a slow, suspenseful lather, bringing the destinations of Mike and Linda and Bailey and Cheryl together, but then they are thrown together into face-offs that feel abrupt, unearned. The character who makes the most discernable growth here is Bailey, rescued from laissez-faire hostility to conviction at the realization of his own exploitative tendencies. Darren Brett does wonders with a quiet performance, able to be first glib and then deeply touched without a lot of pyrotechnics.

The other three are equally impressive, but you can't help but feel the playwright has cheated them and us with an improperly paced resolution to issues of scorching personal import. Global Village contains laughter and tears that feel more authentic than the ones you usually get from such a young playwright; a reconsideration of the play's truncated second act would further authenticate Tom Grady's obvious gifts with dialogue and subtly converging moods.

Global Village runs through February 27. Call (214) 353-9916.

Banter

Love's labor lost
Magruder-Stock-Birkenhead's musical version of Marivaux's 18th-century garden romp of deceit, Triumph of Love, ran for just over two months on Broadway in late 1997, unexpectedly short for an expensive songfest that boasted F. Murray Abraham, Betty Buckley, and Susan Birkenhead, the lyricist of Jelly's Last Jam. The general critical and audience reception was somewhere between this pull quote from the New Yorker--"The kind of show that makes people want to come to this city--be in the theater, go to the theater, talk about the theater!" and the opinion of my own favorite, unsparingly honest Internet Broadway critic, Christina D'Angelo (talkinbroadway.com). She groused that the show is "a yawn of a yarn that attempts a cerebral dirty froth and flounders. The only triumph was that we stayed awake."

Call off your dogs, Christie! Although the show nabbed a Tony nomination for Fort Worth fave Buckley, the disappointment drove her Off-Broadway and into the arms of a Nicky Silver show called The Eros Trilogy, where she currently languishes playing three different demented mothers.

Undaunted, Theatre Three brings Triumph of Love to Dallas for a Southwest premiere, a few months after New Theatre Company hosted an English translation of Marivaux's script in the T3 basement Theatre Too. It's easy to see why lyricist Birkenhead and composer Jeffrey Stock latched onto the late French master's tale of a bold and, in the final analysis, rather cruel young princess who disguises herself as a boy and infiltrates the overstarched hearth of middle-aged, brother-and-sister classical scholars. She must thaw out their icy, overintellectual hearts through extravagant overtures of love and then, ultimately, stomp on them in pursuit of the duo's nephew, her true love and the rightful heir to the throne that the princess assumed by her father's bloody coup.

You can always count on director-designer Bruce Coleman to help kindle chemistry between actors and keep the proceedings chugging along amiably (although I couldn't help but wonder why he chose to "update" a show with Prohibition-era costumes when, in almost every other respect, it appears to be set in ancient Greece). He performs his dependable tricks in service to a curious and rather meager modern musical that blends the insistent sexual innuendo and physical capering of burlesque with the rather discomfiting sight of two arrogant intellectuals getting it in the teeth when they're finally enticed to drop life-long defenses. To alternate between cute and alarming is not quite the tango of mood that one assumes a musical of this airiness aspires, but the book and score seem to have trouble deciding what they want to accomplish with a tale that can be told in different voices and emotional shadings. As a result, they follow all whims with a dogged, not very relaxed need to please. Couple this with principal cast members whose voices don't seem up to the task of the score, and you have a Triumph of Love that feels pleased with itself all out of proportion to its virtues.

Lisa Gabrielle-Greene is all fresh-scrubbed determination and good cheer as Princess Leonide, but she slows down to reveal poignant regret and even a kind of numb horror when Hesione (Sally Soldo), the spinster aunt of her adored Agis (Joshua Judge), delivers the show's sad centerpiece number, "Serenity." Soldo's voice, by far the strongest in this cast, is as glorious as ever, and she mingles regret and newfound hope in her account of how an adolescent heartbreak led her to retreat into the song's title. Given the new (and wholly fallacious) romantic attentions of "Phocion" (that's the princess' male drag name), however, her life no longer seems quite so serene. The tenderness of the scene, heightened by Gabrielle-Greene's silent realization of what her devious campaign has wrought, stops your heart in your throat. It also leaves you a little restless and irritable when the manic tone resumes--with the heartbreaking exception of the number "Teach Me Not to Love You"--for the rest of the show.

Everyone in the cast supplies a chuckle or two eventually, but Joshua Judge as Agis, Jim Hines as the servant Harlequin, and Lorie J. Clark as Leonide's assistant Corine have voices that sometimes threaten to be lost in musical director Terry Dobson's live accompaniment. Their comic escapades are more successful, although even these eventually buckle under the humor's one-note leering quality. I like a naughty double entendre as much as the next rapscallion, but when they're lobbed as constantly and frenetically as they are here, you abandon saucy and clever and enter a certain Benny Hill pathology. Hermocrates telling a love-addled Agis that he should be off oiling his cannon is good for a chuckle. To have him repeat, practically moments later, that his nephew should be off sharpening his sword just makes you roll your eyes, because this is the umpteenth sexual pun in a show that seems to use them as filler between passages of emotional duplicity.

Some have argued that time will rescue the score to Triumph of Love and belatedly give its collection of songs a place beside the great stage musicals that aim to be about more than girl-gets-the-guy, ain't-love-grand showmanship. With the exceptions noted above, I felt that the writers shortchanged the kind of tangled feelings that Sondheim and Kander-Ebb champion for standard-issue musical-farce shenanigans. Theatre Three has always been unabashed in its desire to dispense audience-pleasing show-tune flourishes, but this time, its light-footed faithfulness to a script's disjointed rhythm takes us all over the floor, starting one dance before another is finished. The players ask us, like an insecure partner, for constant reassurance that we're having a good time. We're not exactly bored, but we carry indelible memories of past partners who were stylish, knew all the steps, and stuck to a program.

Triumph of Love runs through February 21. Call (214) 871-3300.

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