Drag Strip Courage
Directed by – Seth Johnston
Seth Johnston - Deeley
Mary Jane Greer – Anna
Laura Lutz Jones – Kate
Reviewed Performance 7/12/2014
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
DragStrip Courage performs Harold Pinter’s Old Times at Arts Fifth Avenue. It’s the story of three characters, Deeley Kate and Anna, coming together and reminiscing about old times over lasagna and drinks. Anna and Kate were roommates twenty years ago. Deely met and married Kate twenty years ago. As old times are shared, it is soon discovered that all is not as it initially appears. The twists and turns in this Harold Pinter play will have you pondering what the truth is, and what is perceived to be real.
Old Times was written by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter and first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in June1971. Peter Hall directed the world premiere as well as the Broadway premiere later in 1971 at the Billy Rose Theatre in New York, starring Robert Shaw, Rosemary Harris and Mary Ure.
Arts Fifth Avenue is a multi-use cultural arts space located just south of Magnolia Street in Fort Worth. The venue looks like what it is, a building built several decades ago and now used by the community to keep the arts alive in a diverse cultural area. Inside, it houses a series of large open areas. Arts Fifth Avenue is associated with Tommy Tune, and as such, offers tap lessons, acting workshops, bongo drum lessons, and is home to Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.
The theatre space is a non- traditional performance venue with no usual proscenium or thrust stage. A long, narrow, raised platform runs along the inside of the building. Director Seth Johnston makes good use of the existing design for this production. The audience sits on three sides of a center open area that is framed by metal support columns found throughout the structure. The set design is minimal and includes a multi-print sofa, a 1970’s chaise lounge and a chair. Upstage on the raised platform area is a 1960’s record player that actually played real vinyl records for preshow and intermission music. In the upstage left corner is a beverage cart containing decanters of liquors. It’s all designed well for maximum use so the actors can play to the audience on all three sides.
Costuming for the show is as eclectic and fitting for the story as is the furniture. Seth Johnston’s Deeley is dressed in a beige overcoat and white1970’s shoes. The beige jacket and out of style shoes makes Deeley seem almost insignificant despite having a large portion of the dialogue. Laura Lutz-Jones, as Kate, opens in a floor length, clingy red dress that enhances her figure when she moves or while sitting on the sofa. The red color brings focus to her as the center of attention whether she is talking or non-verbally reacting to what is being said around her. She takes the stage again with a floor length bathrobe that she wears the entire second act. Mary Jane Greer, as Anna, is dressed the entire show in a mid-length, form-fitting black dress with plunging neckline. Her hair is dark, short and curled. The black dress makes her pale skin complexion even paler as if she was a corpse. This visual plays well for some of the dialogue and action late in the second act.
Seth Johnston directs and plays the role of Deeley. Johnston plays him loud, arrogant, over-bearing, and at times lecherous and ignorant in the finer points of romancing a woman. In the opening scene, Deeley sits in a chair with drink in hand, loudly questioning Kate about the expected arrival of Kate’s old roommate, Anna. Johnston’s voice is aggressive, almost belligerent, as he asks Kate question after question about Anna. Later, when Deeley is alone with Anna, Johnston slouches in a chair, again with drink in hand, and a lecherous look on his face. Often, the duality of directing and performing in a show can hinder either the performance and/or the direction of the show. Johnston plays Deeley so obnoxious and belligerent to the point that I did not want to like the character. I felt sorry, though, for his character that came across as ignorant and self important.
Where Johnston plays Deeley as aggressive and belligerent, Lutz-Jones plays Kate as serene and, at times, emotionally detached from the other characters. As the story progresses, the reasons for the seemingly emotional detachment become clear. Lutz-Jones keeps her voice calm through most of the conversation. However, she also shows Kate’s emotions such as happiness, confusion and occasional discomfort through her facial expressions, eye shifting, body language and the tone of her voice. When discussing what she remembers about Anna, Lutz-Jones recounts a memory of Anna stealing her underwear when she wanted to go out. She shows the memory is an unpleasant one that evokes anger. While Kate is emotionally detached from the other two characters, Lutz-Jones also portrays Kate as a victim always in control of those same emotions.
Mary Jane Greer, as Anna, arrives at the home of Deeley and Kate with high energy and animation. Greer is initially graceful and slightly condescending in words and body posture in portraying Anna’s new, wealthy life in Sicily. Her subtle looks and gestures toward Kate, make it apparent there is something more going between Kate and Anna. Greer shows Anna as provocative in a scene in which she is alone with Deeley, and another in which she is alone with Kate. After a scene in which Deeley confronts Anna with the conviction that Deeley and Anna met in a bar twenty years ago, Greer transitions Anna’s demeanor from confident to very vulnerable in her behavior and voice.
The show is exceptionally heavy on dialogue that contains innuendoes, accusations, collections and corrections of memories, as well as unexpected emotional twists and turns between the three characters. Most of the physical action comes when Deeley gets up for a drink or when Kate and Anna change locations from the chaise lounge to the sofa and back. The strength of the story is in the superb skill of the actors as they believably react to each other on stage. This is, at times, more challenging when there are long periods of time with no dialogue. Yet each actor remains in the moment, reacting to what is being said or not. The audience clearly sees the characters actively engaged as they listen and verbally and non-verbally respond to each other. At differing times, the response could be a lengthy dialogue, monologue, one line response or a gesture that conveys a paragraph of words. It is as if I was watching a conversation between three good friends which is as it should be.
Arts Fifth Avenue’s venue, with its older, eclectic feel, may be just the place to produce a Harold Pinter play. DragStrip Courage’s production, like the building, has great elements that can lead the audience member to unexpected directions and may not be where the viewer thought they were going. It is an exploration well worth taking, as is Pinter, and will have you pondering about the conclusion of the story.
Drag Strip Courage
at Arts Fifth Avenue
1628 5th Ave
Fort Worth, TX 76110
Runs through July 20th
Friday - Sunday at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $15.00.