By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Shutting off the air conditioning during performances is standard procedure in many theaters. Theatre Three chills down to sub-arctic levels before curtain time then cuts off its a/c, letting the temp rise to something approximating comfort level without the machinery roaring on mid-show. Theatergoers know to wear layers there, peeling down as the stage lights heat up the space.
On opening night of Sailing to Byzantium, however, they didn't quite have the on-off timing figured out. During the first act, the Bath House started to feel like one. When the a/c kicked back on more than a half-hour into the evening, the audience could finally stop fanning madly with the programs and concentrate on the action onstage.
Not that there is much. Sailing is more of a slow stroll. In the home of writer Olivia Shakespear (Ellen Locy), Irish poet William Butler Yeats (Bill Jenkins) attempts to woo his longtime lover, suspected spy and revolutionary Maud Gonne (Carolyn McCormick). Wrapped up in the fight for Irish home rule, Gonne rebuffs Yeats, which makes the married Olivia's heart go pitter-pat; she's had a thing for Yeats for years. Enter "the penniless poet from Idaho," Ezra Pound (Ashley Wood), who's there as Yeats' secretary and to propose to Olivia's pretty daughter, Dorothy (Kelly Rypkema).
Everyone talks a blue streak in this play, set in 1916. They yammer about poetry, art and the addictive qualities of romantic love. Says Pound: "History and literature will tell us that the price of true love is suicide." Sort of a glass-half-empty guy, that Pound.
On Chase Corker's doily-strewn set, the characters sip tea and nibble cucumber sandwiches, making like Masterpiece Theatre for more than two hours. They even hold a séance, contacting the spirit of a sculptor friend of Pound's who recently has died on a battlefield in WWI.
Echo's cast, directed by Linda Leonard, acquits itself admirably, posh accents and all. Carolyn McCormick gives a quiet, earthy performance as Gonne. Ashley Wood has fire in his eyes as Pound. There's just not a lot more to get hold of in Sailing to Byzantium, not any one character to fall in love with or engrossing mystery to solve. Just pretty people saying pretty things, which isn't quite enough.
With the air conditioning humming nicely though, act two provided several pleasant opportunities for short naps.