Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Haunting Brenda Blethyn

Despite three fine performances, there was something alienating about the writing in Haunted that kept me distanced. But there is still plenty to savor in Haunted, part of the Brits Off Broadway festival (an Anglophile's dream) at 59E59. The play runs through January 2.

The memory play is narrated by Mr. Berry (Niall Buggy), a romantic with a vivid imagination, and it's hard to know whether everything happened as he said or whether some of it was in his mind. He recalls the day a young lady, Hazel (Beth Cooke), comes to his house and he is instantly infatuated. After finding out that she gives elocution lessons, he asks her to teach him in exchange for his wife's (who she believes to be dead) clothes. Mrs. Berry (Brenda Blethyn) is very-much alive and working at a doll factory.

Cooke, in her New York debut, is sweet as the delicate Hazel. Buggy gives Mr. Berry just the right combination of charm and creepiness. Not surprisingly, since the play was written as a vehicle for her, Blethyn is the driving force of the play. Her performance is funny, moving, and yes, even haunting. Her tangible pain of a woman still hurting from her long ago miscarriage and husband's infidelities makes Mrs. Berry the only character I cared about.

The design elements are particularly evocative of how bleak the marriage has become. Projections by Jack James, sound design by Pete Rice, and music by Akintayo Akinbode are suitably forboding. The carousel horse hanging from the ceiling of Simon Higlett's living room set is a nice touch, and used effectively later in the play.

All of this does not completely make up for the fact that there are moments when the play gets bogged down in Edna O'Brien's dense writing and there is not enough plot to sustain the 2 hour 15 minute run time, but Blethyn's performance makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Photo credit: Jonathan Keenan

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