Vengeance Can Wait, the second show of Players’ 2015/16 season, was an intriguing, dour production. It wasn’t entirely successful, but I applaud the effort to push boundaries and go where few other Mohawk Valley productions go.
Director Eric Almleaf is clearly attracted to Japanese forms and themes – his play The Summer Fox (presented by Players last summer, a fine production) was based on Japanese folklore. In his director’s note for the current show, Almleaf says he wanted to create the feel of manga and anime with set, lights and blocking. Of those elements, only the blocking really contributed: the set and lighting weren’t stylized or colorful enough to represent the comic style they were supposed to. (Players’ extremely limited technical facility hurt this production more than most.)
Several in the cast made a point in their program bios that they were acting in a non-Western style. I haven’t seen many non-Western theater pieces, so I asked friends with formal theater education what to look for. I didn’t get a consistent answer (several had no idea), but this comment is instructive: “…stylized movement, nonrealistic cartoonish or exaggerated interaction…but you really need to have all actors buy into that hook, line, and sinker or it’s just weird.” I think the seven performers in this show bought into it, but they each had a different take on the concept – it seemed like they were all acting in different productions.
The real risk of doing a show like this is financial – most companies make careful calculations when programming a subscription series, to please returning subscribers while (hopefully) attracting new customers. Years ago, Players had a “Pub” space where smaller, more experimental shows were staged. The ticket price was lower than main-stage shows, so there wasn’t the same pressure to produce crowd-pleasers. Vengeance Can Wait would have been a great Pub show back in the day.
Certainly the piece’s themes are interesting – guilt, revenge, submission, and how all are mixed into lust and love. I think (and I suspect Almleaf agrees) that although Japanese representations of those can seem kinky/bizarre, they are truer to real human emotional lives than most Western depictions, which value bland propriety above all else (think Hallmark). Almleaf and company scratched enough of that surface for me to wish that more could have been done to really do justice to the material. Barring that, kudos to all for making the effort.
(P.S. – The show was almost two hours, without intermission. Relatively early, an actress did a terrific job of seeming like she needed to go to the bathroom. The character ended up wetting herself. Much later, after the play finally ended, my companion and I made a desperate run for the restroom. Theatrical cruelty, that.)