Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The setting is England in 1942. Sir leads a Shakespearian theater troupe that travels the small towns of the country. Warning sirens and bombs are a constant reminder of the Blitz. The troupe rotates through Shakespeare's major plays as it moves across the countryside. Sir has lost considerable luster over the years, and his long-expected knighthood has become a delusion.
As the play opens, Sir, played by Peter Shea Kierst for West End Productions, has been taken to the hospital after wandering incoherently through the town's market. Norman (Yannig Morin) and Her Ladyship (Fawn Hanson) are in Sir's dressing room discussing whether the show should be canceled given Sir's deteriorating condition. The stage manager, Madge (Jessica Osbourne), also doubts Sir can be retrieved from the hospital and roused sufficiently before the night's performance. Norman insists Sir will be in fine shape in time. As they're struggling through the dilemma, Sir walks into the dressing room, having checked himself out of the hospital. Her Ladyship–who is presumably Sir's wife–and Madge leave the room to reluctantly prepare for the evening's performance.
The heart of the play centers on Norman and Sir in the dressing room, getting ready for the evening's show. Sir has not fully recovered his senses. He begins to apply makeup for Othello even though the evening's play is King Lear. The exasperated Norman corrects Sir and helps him with his costume and wig.
During the preparations, we learn quite a lot about the relationship between these two aging men who have been bound together for 16 years. Norman takes nips from his always-present flask. This seems to be a long-held habit. We see that Sir is deeply egotistical with near-infantile selfishness. Norman's resentment over Sir's complete lack of appreciation runs so deep it has taken over his personality.
Harwood wrote the screenplay for the 1983 movie based on his play. The movie squeezes much of the darkness out of the play. Sir (Albert Finney) is less debilitated, and by the end of the movie, Norman (Tom Courtenay) declares his love for Sir. In the play, Norman never rises above bitterness as he realizes he is nothing without Sir. As for Sir, he barely notices that Norman exists.
Director Coleen Neary McClure has put together a powerful production. The emotions may be miserable, but the play is gripping. While the bulk of the drama lives with Norman and Sir, the balance of her cast includes some of the best actors in Albuquerque. But center stage are Shea Kierst and Morin. Shea Kierst has deep roots in Albuquerque theater as a director and actor. He's always excellent. In the role of Sir, he does a wonderful job, absolutely convincing as a man at the very end of his rope. The real work of this story is with Norman. Morin does an extraordinary job of expressing Norman's dreary and demanding life. The constant sips from the flask can't dull his aching resentment. Norman puts his whole soul into propping up the aging, deteriorating actor, and Sir couldn't care less. Toward the end of the play, Sir shows Norman the dedication for his memoir for which he has only written the dedication. Sir thanks everyone down to the stagehands, but he never mentions Norman.
As well as terrific work from the actors, we also get excellent chops from the production team. The sirens and bombs help create a sense of Brittain's World War II chaos (thank you, Casey Mraz). The set design by Mattie Ross is wonderful, as are the costumes by Kaylee Lynora Silcocks-Gore. Overall, it's another fine feather in the cap for Neary McClure and West End Productions.
Harwood has mentioned that he based the play on his experience as a dresser. After watching this play, it's clear his experience in this life of servitude was miserable.
The Dresser, presented by West End Productions, runs through January 29, 2023, at VSA North Fourth Art Center 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $23. Discounted admission is $22 for ATG members, military, students, and seniors (62+). Tickets at the door are an additional $2. For tickets and information, please visit westendproductions.org or call 855-937-8505.