When Ir­ish eyes are smil­ing

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

Fu­sion The­atre Company, Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Sept. 27

TGIF con­cert se­ries, First Pres­by­te­rian Church, Sept. 26 Much was at stake when the Fu­sion The­atre Company took to the stage of the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter last Satur­day with John Pa­trick Shan­ley’s in­gra­ti­at­ing com­edy Out­side Mullingar. As Pasatiempo re­ported last week, this per­for­mance amounted to a make-or-break mo­ment for the Al­bu­querque company’s run-out sea­sons in Santa Fe. Not­with­stand­ing the laud­able, if in­con­sis­tent, work the troupe has pre­sented here over the past two years, it has not man­aged to build a large au­di­ence. In a Pasatiempo in­ter­view, Robert Martin, the Len­sic’s ex­ec­u­tive/artis­tic di­rec­tor, ex­pressed re­gret about this but said it would be fi­nan­cially im­prac­ti­cal for the Len­sic to con­tinue pre­sent­ing Fu­sion to an au­di­ence num­ber­ing fewer than 350 or 400.

For what­ever rea­son, the evening at­tracted far more at­ten­dees than any other Fu­sion per­for­mance I have at­tended. The box of­fice tal­lied more than 450 ticket pur­chases, and the Len­sic had to open its mez­za­nine to ac­com­mo­date the crowd. The dy­namic can only have buoyed the ac­tors, who in­vari­ably ben­e­fit from hav­ing a large au­di­ence with which to en­gage. Out­side Mullingar was em­i­nently worth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, and Fu­sion gave it an af­fec­tion­ate, be­guil­ing per­for­mance.

The play tracks the re­la­tion­ship of a mid­dle-aged man and woman in some re­mote patch of Ire­land, a cou­ple des­tined to get to­gether de­spite the long­stand­ing emo­tional bar­ri­ers they have con­structed, not to men­tion a dis­pute in­volv­ing real es­tate. It is a cham­ber play with only four char­ac­ters — the cou­ple at the cen­ter plus her mother and his fa­ther. The two el­ders have passed away by the time the sec­ond act be­gins, but in con­text that is nei­ther de­press­ing nor un­ex­pected, given the ten­dency of Ir­ish plays (come­dies in­cluded) to trade in hov­er­ing de­cay, along with cease­less rain­fall and low per­sonal ex­pec­ta­tions. Shan­ley ap­proaches all of th­ese with a ten­der smile.

The cou­ple, por­trayed by Sherri L. Ede­len and Thomas Adrian Simp­son, had the au­di­ence cheer­ing for them not­with­stand­ing (or per­haps be­cause of ) their char­ac­ters’ lim­i­ta­tions and ec­cen­tric­i­ties. Both ren­dered finely cal­i­brated per­for­mances, with Ede­len main­tain­ing in­her­ent in­gen­u­ous­ness even when at the boil­ing point of frus­tra­tion and Simp­son bat­tling his in­ner demons with in­tro­spec­tive ret­i­cence. As the fa­ther, Robert Benedetti con­veyed his own quiet trans­for­ma­tion from stub­born old geezer to a man seek­ing peace and for­give­ness in his fi­nal hour (in an exquisitely paced death scene). In the role of the mother, Nancy Jeris was blunt, en­dear­ing, and funny; her mat­ter-of-fact ren­der­ing achieved through sub­tle act­ing of sa high or­der. The four were well matched, and Jac­que­line Reid di­rected them in an in­ter­pre­ta­tion that proved en­ter­tain­ing and heart­warm­ing. Can Santa Fe au­di­ences look for­ward to fu­ture Fu­sion pro­duc­tions? It de­pends on whether the company can main­tain this high stan­dard and con­tinue to at­tract en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ences.

The pre­ced­ing evening, harp­si­chordist David Solem ap­peared at First Pres­by­te­rian Church’s weekly TGIF con­cert, per­form­ing the Sec­ond Or­dre from François Couperin’s First Book of Harp­si­chord Pieces, pub­lished in 1713. Be­cause this is one of Couperin’s long­est suites, con­sist­ing of 23 move­ments, Solem ex­cluded nearly all re­peats. While that made it pos­si­ble to in­clude the en­tire suite — a rare plea­sure — some of its con­stituent pieces ended up seem­ing tiny in­deed. His in­ter­pre­ta­tions some­times hewed to the side of cau­tion, but when Solem al­lowed him­self breath­ing room, he proved ca­pa­ble of fluid grace. This was most ev­i­dent in his read­ing of “Le Garnier,” where Couperin’s grand phrases un­rolled with sup­ple el­e­gance.

— James M. Keller

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