When Irish eyes are smiling
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