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Quest for English hearts -- and throne. N.Y.'s Mirror Rep tackles history; also, a slick comedy of relationships

Vivat! Vivat Regina! Play by Robert Bolt. Directed by John Strasberg. The Mirror Repertory Company has mounted a production of ``Vivat! Vivat Regina!'' that copes creditably with the complexities and maintains the momentum of Robert Bolt's tapestried history play. Mr. Bolt's 16th-century chronicle covers more than two tumultuous decades. Dialogue references range from Bothwell's border sheep raids to preparations for challenging the threat of the Spanish Armada.

In a series of counterpointed scenes -- Mr. Bolt respects history by not having the queenly rivals meet -- Elizabeth (Geraldine Page) and Mary Queen of Scots (Sabra Jones) plot and maneuver in their ultimately one-sided contest for English hearts and the English throne. Since the outcome is history, any dramatic treatment must replay events from the vantage point of the interpreter's perspective.

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Mr. Bolt's two queens are figures as much manipulated by their male advisers as driven by their own designs, desires, and ambitions. Miss Jones brings an appealing quality to the role of the beleaguered and ill-fated Mary; she is less successful at conveying the self-will and steely determination of that tempestuous monarch. Miss Page plays Elizabeth with a Renaissance flourish and a wicked way with an ironical line.

The generally satisfactory performance staged by John Strasberg appreciates the Realpolitik as well as the passions involved in the unequal power struggle. Among the more conspicuous members of a very large cast are Bryan Clark as shrewdly politic Lord Cecil and Phillip Pruneau as hard-nosed Sir Francis Walsingham.

Clement Fowler is a gently solicitous Claud Nau, Mary's devoted teacher and confidant. Her principal friends and foes among the Scots are well played by W. B. Brydon (Bothwell), Tom Brennan (Morton), and Richard Mathews (clamorous John Knox). Tad Jones is suitably despicable as Lord Darnley, whose brief marriage to Mary produces James I and whose murder dispatches the dissolute weakling. Making his stage debut with eminent composure as the infant James is infant Elijah William Burkhardt, Miss Page's grandson, who does his grandmother proud.

The setting by scenery and lighting designer James Tilton is practical, graceful, and efficient. Gail Cooper-Hecht has costumed the revival handsomely.

You don't seem to hear the phrase ``meaningful relationship'' much nowadays. Perhaps such relationships proved too difficult to sustain. But they were not more difficult than the platonic relationship sought by Digby Merton (Anthony Heald), the chivalrous hero of Joseph Dougherty's new comedy being presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Theater. In bygone days, Digby might have been described as a decent chap. Then he became a square. In 1985 he would probably be written off as a ``wimp,'' albeit a wimp with some wit. His friend and fellow ad agency employee, Harry Crocker (Keith Szarabajka), applies the ultimate putdown when he calls Digby ``a door holder and a hat tipper.''

Digby dreams what the cynical Crocker regards as the impossible dream of having a genuinely platonic relationship with a woman. Being a comic as well as a quixotic hero, he chooses Faye Greener (Roxanne Hart), a gorgeous publicist whose relationships are more multiple than meaningful. Digby initiates Faye into the mysteries of baseball (via his beloved New York Mets) and of Chinese food. He takes her to the movies. They waltz.

The friendship begins in June and progresses until August, when Faye makes the mistake of taking Digby plus her three current boyfriends for a weekend at her family's mountain cottage. The outing tests platonism, not to mention Mr. Dougherty's comic invention.

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The violence that explodes near the end of Act I recurs in Act II when a shattered Digby jumps to a mistaken conclusion about his slightly odious boss (Bernie McInerney) and Faye. ``Digby'' ends tentatively. To accept anything more would require the kind of credulity that takes TV commercials on faith.

Mr. Heald's Digby and Miss Hart's Faye charmingly personify the opposites who attract each other. John Glover, Tony Goldwyn, and Jon Polito amusingly differentiate specimens of lechery. Marilyn Redfield presides with dithery shrewdness over a gallery where art is measured by sales. The production was costumed by Rita Ryack and lighted by Curt Ostermann.

``Digby'' is slight but slick. It is the work of an observer with a knack for comedy, an ear for the sometimes explicit lingo of the moment, and the prospect of something meaningful to say.

For all its glib jargon, raw jokiness, and sentimentality, William M. Hoffman's ``As Is'' presents a bleak view of the New York homosexual scene. As depicted by Mr. Hoffman, it is a world of casual pick-ups, fragile relationships, and promiscuity. The play is specifically concerned with aspects of the outbreak of AIDS, an acronym for what is termed ``acquired immune deficiency syndrome.'' (New York Mayor Edward I. Koch has stated that treatment of AIDS, said to cost $1 million a week, has placed a burden on the city's health-care facilities.) ``As Is'' reduces the crisis to personal terms as Rich (Jonathan Hogan), a successful young caterer and writer, confronts the fears posed by the disease. Rich's discovery occurs as he is on the point of acquiring a new boyfriend and walking out on Saul (Jonathan Hadary), his heartbroken, longtime companion. ``As Is'' concerns the effects of the ordeal on Rich himself as well as on the loyal Saul and others closely or casually connected with the terrified victim.

While Rich's crisis could be a case history, Mr. Hoffman's dramatic method is free-form and nonliteral, involving flashbacks, choral speaking, and fragmentary episodes. A compassionate hospice worker (Claris Erickson) periodically describes her efforts to comfort the dying. Yet even these confidences cannot conceal an overall superficiality that trivializes an appalling and tragic situation. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that Rich -- honestly portrayed by Mr. Hogan -- is presented in unsympathetic terms.

The good Circle Repertory Company cast, most of whose members play multiple roles, includes Ken Kliban, Steven Gregan, and Lily Knight. The production has been smoothly directed by Marshall W. Mason.

The Circle Rep presented ``As Is'' with the help of The Glines, a nonprofit organization for the development and presentation of homosexual performance material. With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council of the Arts, The Glines produced the First and Second Gay American Arts Festivals in 1980 and 1981.

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