“The Haberdasher!” A Tale of Derring-Do

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Photo Credit: Brett Marks

By Walt McGough
Presented by Argos Productions
Directed by Brett Marks
Fight Direction by Angie Jepson

January 11 – 25, 2014
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA
Argos Productions on Facebook

(Boston) Well, this season theatre has really shown Boston that girls can kick some serious butt.  From the A.R.T.’s Robin Hood, to Imaginary Beast’s winter Panto Rumplestiltskin, we’ve seen our share of swashbuckling dames on the Boston stage this winter.  The Haberdasher! doesn’t buck the trend and delivers ungenderbiased asskickery in the form of rapier-crossing adventure and witty banter.

Simply and sweetly: this is a fun show with high entertainment value that would be particularly attractive to the young or young-at-heart.

Four actors play a variety of characters to make a French village come to life.  Using a veritable arsenal of accents, physicality, and small character-based costume pieces, the ensemble really put their backs into making each very different individual an individual.  Their hard work paid off and it was, for the most part, extremely clear who was whom (even during the scenes which were played “in cognito”… you know… because a play with four actors and ten to twelve characters isn’t confusing enough).

That being said, I had some nits to pick with the production.

Fight Director Angie Jepson is at the top of Boston’s FD scene at the moment.  In this show, she definitely delivers high-octane choreography under some ridiculously constricting parameters.  The cast, unfortunately, doesn’t have the stamina to keep up.  While the violence began with great promise (Kaitee Tredway assaults Brendan Mulhern with gusto and style within the first ten minutes of lights up), it lagged towards the end and the show’s spectacular finale, while a neat concept, was sloppy in execution.  The fun convention of a four-person fight scene being done by two actors (no, seriously, it was really creative and interesting to watch) quickly lost steam because the actors grew tired.  Because of this fatigue, their movements became less specific at a moment when you really really needed that specificity to clarify for the audience what the story was.  The character boundaries, which had been so crystalline and precise before “Act Five”, blurred a bit much for my liking.  Pushing that extra mile would really have driven this thing home.

The ensemble was insanely strong.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Such a bulletproof chain will make even the smallest deficiency glare in comparison.  Unfortunately, Tredway simply wasn’t ready to bat with the big boys on this one.  In comparison to her counterparts, her acting seemed flat and one-dimensional.  Couple that with the fact that her one big character choice for her conniving evil Duke villain was a lisp which came and went willy nilly regardless of linguistic (or comedic) consistency, and you’ve found your weak link in the chain.

French speakers will be wary: the pronunciation ebbs and flows in the French flavor-words that playwright Walt McGough has tossed in to make certain that you know the scene is set in France.

The scene changes ran a bit long, especially considering how quickly the actors were capable of costume adjustment and alteration.

Nits picked, let’s end this review on a high note.  Hannah Husband’s performance as the Duke’s dastardly second-in-command is blissfully reminiscent of Allan Rickman at his finest.  Her forlorn second-act stage crossing while pitifully knitting (…it will all make sense when you see the show) was enough to bring the house down.  Mark Estano deserves some kind of award for his hysterical flouncing and heart-wrenching fatherly character arc.  Brendan Mulhern successfully proves that his range goes from heart-throbby honorable leading man, to big dumb oafish minion who swallows bugs all in the course of a handkerchief wave.

Despite my quibbles, I would strongly encourage you to see this show.  The writing is cute, the acting is (mostly) spectacular, and it’s always worth supporting local artists.

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