Theatre Review: A Layered Piece of Artistry
Courage. As in life, so it goes with art. Those who exhibit the most courage are the ones least thanked, but often receive the greatest rewards. Ego Po Classic Theatre’s undertaking of John Guare’s sprawling epic Lydie Breeze Trilogy Part One: Cold Harbor is no exception.
The Tony Award winning Guare has spent thirty years writing the three-part Lydie Breeze masterpiece. Each of the plays has been produced independently over the years. But under the direction of Lane Savadove, this will mark the first time all three will be produced together in succession. Culminating in three-day marathons and daring one-day marathons with all three plays done at once.
Lydie Breeze Part One: Cold Harbor, is a dense and sprawling piece, spanning decades. Set during the Civil War the play takes us on a journey through battlefields, court rooms, whaling ships and river boats. From dark southern plantations to the beaches of Nantucket and everything in between. Using flashbacks, journal scribing, book reading and the occasional injury induced hallucination Guare creates a rich dynamic piece that challenges the audience from start to finish.
As challenging of piece it is for the audience, the scope and size of the play would cause a lot of theatre companies to blankly stare out a window as they quickly moved on to the next. Savadove and his team attacked it head on and have created a layered piece of artistry that takes the company to a new level.
One of the more brilliant parts of Guare’s script is that as complicated as it is, one does not forget that it is simply a story. It is written with all of the stylings of early American melodrama. Savadove and his team of designers maintained the integrity of the style (think folktales) and created a synergistic world that transports and keeps us firmly rooted in the time period.
Marketa Fantova creates a fantastic playing space out of untreated wood planks, boards and sand. With two curving staircases up to an elevated playing space and dozens 30 ft pieces of hemp rope hanging from the ceiling. Savadove utilizes every inch of it as he moves actors through every nook and cranny to create a dizzying amount of environs.
This would not have been achievable, however, without the gorgeous, intricate lighting by Mike Inwood. Inwood isolates and expands playing spaces from intimate fireside conversations to the main deck of a whaling ship with precision.
The music is wonderful. Jay Ansill’s and Cynthia Hopkins’ score is created live each night. Gorgeous and haunting voices swirl in the space giving the feeling that, at times, the whole theatre seems to float in the air. They also employ Foley sound throughout. By deciding to forgo any prerecorded sound they add a layer to the design of this period piece that was pitch perfect.
Of course, someone needs to tell the story and this incredible ensemble is spot on doing it. Although Guare spins multiple tales throughout the piece, the story is primarily about Lydie Breeze (Melanie Julian) and her journey to find the one person who can shed light on her father’s suicide. Along the way she meets and befriends Joshua Hickman (Charlie Del Marcelle), Dan (David Girard) and Amos (Ed Swidey).
As the tale is spun, it becomes clear that this is Lydie’s journey to find out who she is and who she wants to become. There are not a lot parts in literature for a female lead that requires the level of performance that Guare has written for Lydie. Spanning everything from war torn nurse to awkward young daughter, negotiator, cheerleader, young lover and narrator. On stage for virtually the entire play the actress cannot miss even once.
Julian proves herself to be an actress at the top of her game. She goes at the role with a controlled energy that she maintains from beginning to end. Julian is the driving force throughout and carries the entire thing squarely on her capable and talented shoulders.
DelMarcelle’s Joshua is subtle and nuanced. He serves as Lydie’s ego and inner voice. Girard’s slightly drunk Dan solidly floats through as Lydie’s ID.. Supplying her with food, wine, romance and much needed medical supplies. Swidey’s Amos is fantastic. Certainly, the Super Ego, is always wondering what’s the right thing to do. The comedic relief of the piece: Swidey’s timing and commitment.
While these are principals of the story, they are supported by a fantastic, dedicated and focused ensemble of 25 talented actors. They become all the characters the four travelers meet. They are all the soldiers alive, dead and dying. They manipulate the set to create trees and guns out ropes. They sing and dance. Their very body’s and presence become the world of the play.
Their collective performance is, truly, quite stunning. One performance to look out for is Amanda Jill Robinson’s skillfully crafted Mrs. Randolph.
However, the sheer amount of choreography Savadove has chosen to put in the play may be the one spot he misses. This is a long play and at times there is ensemble work that can take you out of the story itself. It is wonderful to watch, but in the end, is probably unnecessary. This is partly because the performance of our four travelers is done with such skillful simplicity that you simply want to hear them tell the tale.
Overall, the play deals with the themes of death and rebirth. With Lydie ultimately finding the voice that she not only wants but chooses. It asks: when does courage become selfishness? It shows how simple death is and how hard life is. For any lover of theatre this is a must see.
There are three ways to experience the Lydie Breeze Trilogy. Visit their website for all details and traveler information. https://www.egopo.org/
All performances take place at the Christ Church Neighborhood House – 20 N. American St., Philadelphia