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StageStruck: Cover-ups and Dis-coveries

Four shows play with themes of concealment and revealment.

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Thursday, September 06, 2012
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Jackie Hoffman, Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry in Brace Yourself

It's a playwriting axiom that one of the mainsprings of drama is the notion of concealing and revealing: guilty secrets, bloody ambitions, baffling mysteries, furtive passions. All four of the plays I saw in the last full week of the region's summer theater season were built on some variant of this principle, but all of them also put literal expressions of the theme onstage.

The most thoroughgoing example was Chester Theatre Company's The Betrothed, in which absolutely nothing is what it seems to be. When an American naïf travels to the (unnamed) Old Country to claim the bride he's been engaged to from infancy, he discovers an ancient crone who claims to be his intended—homely without, but comely within—as well as her glamorous but vapid daughter and his own father, a self-styled Don Juan who is, by the way, dead.

The whole piece is built on fairy- and folk-tale themes of disguise, hidden beauty and miraculous transformations. Part fantasy, part absurdist comedy, it also involves peekaboo activities like Internet dating, and most of the revelations and plot twists tend to mask more than they expose.

In The Inner House, a one-woman show encapsulating the life of Edith Wharton, the author describes summering in Victorian Newport, where the ladies all wore veils to protect their complexions from the sun. Even when practicing archery, they lifted the curtain only long enough to let fly an arrow before covering up again.

The play, performed by Tod Randolph at Wharton's Lenox "cottage," The Mount, describes a lifelong journey of unveiling. Born a pampered daughter of wealth but driven by "the furious muse," Wharton progressively sheds inhibitions and social strictures, finally leaving us with a graphically tender description of lovemaking—written late in her life—as a ceremony of uncovering, unfolding, revealing and enclosing.

Nothing much of interest is revealed in Brace Yourself, the one-act cliché that closed the Berkshire Theatre Company's Stockbridge season. Uptight, pushy mom wants an exorbitant wedding for her daughter, who doesn't, randy son brings home a girlfriend who gets mom stoned and loosened up while easygoing dad smiles indulgently in the background. A vehicle for real-life couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker (both fondly remembered from TV's LA Law), David Epstein's play has all the snarky repartee and facile sentiment of a sitcom.

Here, the concealment trope comes attached to the play's best sight gag. When a batty old relative expires in her easy chair, a Snoopy towel is thrown over the corpse till the hearse can arrive, and there she sits for several scenes, a mute metaphor for the hidden hangups of The American Family.

See How They Run, at Barrington Stage Company, is just as silly but twice as much fun: a classic British farce that is all about frantic failed attempts to keep secrets, maintain decorum and get dressed. It unfolds in a country vicarage where chance encounters, mistaken identities and alcohol conspire to rob the village's properest spinster of her dignity and three respectable gents (plus one German P.O.W.) of their clothing. Subtext be damned—this one revels in revelations of underwear.

Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.

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