Written by David Hare
Directed by Mark McKee
At Dunster House
Through this weekend
PLENTY must have been a difficult play to produce, especially for a college group. It tolerates nothing short of perfection from the actors and the director. Playwright David Hare has nothing but contempt for such mundane matters as coherence or chronology. The play demands complete attention from the audience at all times. But it's an absorbing and challenging play, and the Dunster production rescues it from a potential mire of complications and communicates its full, disturbing potential in the miniscule Junior Common Room.
Michelle Haner's performance as protagonist Susan Traherne indicates that she is an actress of considerable ambition and talent. However, it takes a while for Haner's initial awkwardness with her lines to wear off. It takes perfect acting to say, "What's the point of following the rules? I don't want to die! I don't want to die like that!" without sounding somewhat artificial, and Haner doesn't completely bring Susan into reality until the middle of the first act.
But as the play progresses, so does she, unleashing her talent as Susan loses her grip. She plays the part so the audience doesn't know whether to feel sympathetic or repulsed. It's disturbing to watch Susan's forceful personality grow into something malicious until she becomes a large blonde cobra spitting venom at her husband, the long-suffering Raymond Brock (Josh Frost). "I married him because he reminded me of my father," she says at a diplomatic gathering. "I didn't realize how much of a shit my father was." And it's mysteriously touching near the end, when she wistfully tells one of her many lovers, "There's no one who'll have me." While Haner lacks the expertise necessary to explore all of the aspects of such an immensely complex character (the movie needed Meryl Streep to do it), she brings most of Susan's personality to the stage with an impressive and undeniable force.
Robyn Fass is a delight as Alice Park, Susan's quirky, sometimes naive confidant. Fass takes the stereotypical character of the naive bohemian and turns her into a fascinating and realistic person, the perfect complement to the Lear-ish Susan. Fass captures Alice's precarious perch on the line between comedy and cynicism. The audience simultaneously shudders and laughs as she whips sarcasms and insults at her hapless student Dorcas Grey (Sarah Stevenson). Fass knows how to develop a character, and she has the timing and the bearing of a classic comedian, the ideal safety valve in a complex tragedy.
Frost delivers another classic acting job. Early in his performance, he has a mixture of regality and clumsiness that is as confusing as it is recognizable. His character wavers between a confident, debonair diplomat and a parody of a bureaucrat, such as when he attempts to explain to Susan the benefits of the embalming process. "It keeps the body from exploding at a bad moment," he tells her. When he sees the expression on her face: "Of course, any moment would be a bad moment--that goes without saying." Later, as her husband, he swings quickly and adroitly from a comic character into a tragic figure. Frost displays a character who reaches the end of his rope even after he thought his rope had run out. The anguish in his voice when he tells his wife to "Shut up for just five fucking minutes!" is palpable.
Watching Plenty is a jarring experience. Director Mark McKee keeps the play skating from scene to scene without any solid connection. He molds a play out of short scenes that end at often shocking cliffhangers, and he interjects French speeches, classical music or what-not between scenes. But this is all part of the play, and while the play is not for the timid, it is eerily fascinating to watch.