Monday, March 21, 2011

A Trick to Catch the Old One by Thomas Middleton

A Trick to Catch the Old One. Photos by Tommy Thompson.
Over the last couple of weeks I attended rehearsals for Thomas Middleton's "A Trick to Catch the Old One" at the Blackfriars Playhouse. It was really interesting to see how this play was put together by the actors at the American Shakespeare Center. By chance, I was also able to attend the dress rehearsal along with a half-dozen other lucky souls including ASC Artistic Director Jim Warren, and Leet Shakes/Golden Duck Productions actors/ASC employees Jennifer Jones and Carmel Clavin and Jennifer's husband and Golden Duck owner Noah. We were little but we were loud! We saw it again on opening night, and the Playhouse was close to full with a spattering of ASC veteran Who's Who veteran performers throughout the crowd. This crowd was definitely raucous and loud, one of the more lively I've seen at the ASC.

The play is a laugh a minute satirical city comedy. The main character, Theodorus Witgood, played by the always excellent Greg Phelps, is in up to his ears in debt and must figure out a way to keep the creditors (Jeremy West, Paul Jannise, and Jeremiah Davis) from getting his "carcass." He enlists the help of his friend Host (Chris Johnston, funny as always, this time in a more subtle comedic role) and a courtesan (Miriam Donald in a great performance, and possibly her best role this season) to outwit (pun intended) his conniving London merchant uncle Pecunius Lucre (John Harrell at his usual conniving best) and his hated nemesis Walkadine Hoard (Ben Curns in full Rich Uncle Pennybags mode with an upper crust accent to match). To complicate matters, Witgood is in love with Hoard's niece Joyce (Sarah Fallon). Essentially, Witgood's ruse is to convince Hoard and Lucre that Jane the Courtesan is a rich country widow, to have Hoard marry her, and to have Hoard and Lucre pay off Witgood's debts and restore his lands. Of course, the plan works. Hoard marries Jane, and accepts her even for her low standing and his own bruised ego, and Witgood and Joyce are also betrothed and all Witgood's debts are forgiven.

The funniest character in the play is that of the userer and trampler of time, Harry Dampit. Tyler Moss is brilliant in this role. He swaggers onto the stage in his first scene in a bad, pimp suit with lots of gold jewelry and hands out business cards to the crowd. Dampit is a vile, profane, drunken rogue and heaps abuse upon his loyal servant Audrey (played by Allison Glenzer in a great costume). His diminutive friend Gulf is played and voiced hilariously by Jannise. Be sure to watch for their confrontation as Harry gets ready to head to the Damp Pit.

Patrick Midgley is riotously funny as the old man Kix, friend of Walkadine Hoard's brother Onesiphorus (Jannise) and Jeremy West has another cameo part to remember as Hoard's tailor.

Music for this show is especially good with Donald performing lead vocals on "To Sir with Love." Curns tackles lead vocals on a rollicking version of The Pogue's "Sunny Side of the Street" and the Pietasters' "Girl Take it Easy." Johnston and Donald are brilliant in a duo of Wakey Wakey's "Dance so Good," to lead the play off and Johnston also performs a great version of Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble."

There aren't many opportunities to see this production, so I would advise heading to Staunton to check it out. Middleton was a very good playwright, maybe not quite in Jonson's, Marlowe's and Shakespeare's league, but at times he's brilliant and he's pretty close to that trio. This is probably his funniest play, so if you enjoy a good laugh, check it out.

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