I should put some biases out front. I love the ICCT play space. Yes, it's not much to look at from the outside; yes, when the house lights are on it's hard to forget your sitting in a modified barn. But when the house lights go down, it's one of the best and most versatile stages in the area. I also love Albee. I consider him one of the top two or three finest American playwrights. So I will concede that I was pre-disposed to like this production.
But I've discovered one thing about reviewing plays - the more I enjoy a production, the more I turn the reviewer cap off and turn the audience member cap on. The reverse is true as well - the less I enjoy a production, the more time I spent thinking about what to say about the production instead of actually getting involved in the production as an audience member. I spent a lot of time on the edge of my seat, totally engrossed in what I was seeing onstage, hanging onto the way the actors were performing the beautiful Albee language.
That's not to say the production was without flaw. There was one pretty big one, and I think it important to state it up front. It quickly became obvious that the performers didn't know all their lines - four of the five actors who appear onstage in Act One held scripts. Act Two sees the sixth member of the cast take the stage for the first time, and she too carried a script. By the time we reached Act Three, all six actors were carrying scripts.
The actual script usage varied. Some actors made extensive use of their scripts; others barely looked at it, and there was one performer I never saw look at her script. This is a problem I lay solely at the feet of winter. I've worked onstage with many of these actors before, and I have never known them to have problems with lines. Further, I have to believe it was killing them to be carrying a script.
The funny thing is though, while it was bothersome when the play opened and one actor was using a script and the other wasn't, by the time it became obvious that all were relying on scripts, it also became less distracting. I think if it had been announced pre-show that because of the shortened rehearsal schedule, the actors will be carrying scripts and looking to them every now and then, it might not ever have been a distraction at all.
That's not to say you never noticed it - strangely enough, one of the times it was most noticeable was during a major discussion scene in Act Three, and there it was noticeable because of its absence. It was a scene with very little, indeed almost no, script usage, and the snap and flow of the scene made you realize what the production could have been if the entire show had been done from memory. Because that's the problem with reading as opposed to acting - you can still get the tone and the inflections, but the pacing drops. Reading adds a slight moment of hesitation, like an engine hiccuping instead of running smooth.
But despite this, I still really enjoyed the production. The reading was the only problem I had with the show. All six actors gave strong performances, with Nelson Gurll standing out as Tobias, the true center of the story. His performance is the anchor of the production, allowing the others to play off him. Paula Grady as Claire is also quite good, and her interplay with Nelson is one of the highlights of the show. She uses the anchor he provides to full effect, giving full rein to Claire's eccentricities knowing full well that Nelson's strength won't let her spin out of control. The rest of the cast is similarly good, bringing the sort of quiet intensity you need to do this particular script well.
It's a shame this cast didn't have another week to rehearse, and it's a shame this cast doesn't have two full weeks of performance. It's a very good production, and one well worth seeing.--David Pierce
David Pierce is a four-time past president of the Iowa City Community Theatre. He has acted, sung, directed, and worked backstage for far too many local productions to mention. He is a writer both by trade and inclination, with law and journalism as an educational background.