Last weekend, Colgate had the opportunity to step outside of its usual reality, uncovering a dark, surreal world where love is fallible, power corrupts absolutely and life itself depends on the whims of a central figure. Under the direction of Simona Giurgea, Colgate University Theatre produced Witold Gombrowicz’s The Marriage, a theatric excursion exploring the often troubling implications of free will.
Performed from April 3 through April 6, the three-act show took patience to attend; audience members found themselves entrenched in Brehmer Theatre for three hours. The Theatre sweetened the deal for attendees by offering petits fours following the second act.
The small desserts might have been the only sweet thing about the performance; the show was decidedly dark. Opening with dim lights, fog and the sound of distant gunfire, the first twenty seconds clearly demonstrated that anyone expecting a happy wedding would be left wanting. Chronicling a soldier’s unexpected reunion with the life he left behind, the entire twisted ordeal was also very probably a dream; senior Andrew Burten’s character, Henry, possessed uncanny control over the unfolding events, and as Burten often stated, everything seemed quite unnatural.
From the outset, Burten’s animalistic, creeping entrance, reminiscent of Gollum from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, set a precedent for the unusual styles of movement that permeated the entire show. Punctuated with impromptu dances, prancing, flouncing, marching, rolling and writhing, the unexpected transitions in movement style added to the surreal feeling.
That dreamlike character was accentuated by the skill of the production; the technical elements of the show were fantastic. Changes in lighting helped mark subtle transitions in otherwise seamless acts. The sound manipulated the emotions of the audience, at times eerie by nature of the music and at times jarring because of the emotional juxtapositions. The set for the first act blended natural and man-made elements into a series of mounds with a pond between them, littered with the detritus of human living.
The mounds allowed the actors to utilize a variety of levels, and kept action on the stage dynamic. The presence of water onstage did wonders for crafting the illusion of theatre. Characters splashed in it, wet down their hair and navigated around the artificial pond constantly. Platform bridges were carried on- and off-stage, and in conjunction with the water, were used to create complex, meaningful blocking. One example involved Henry’s reunion with his father and mother, portrayed by senior Ryan Dunbar and sophomore Arianne Templeton. They stand on opposite sides of the bridge, separated by so much more than space and water; the blocking powerfully evoked the mental and emotional distance between them.
All the technical effects in the world, however, don’t add up to much without solid acting to support them. This English translation of The Marriage brims with complicated speeches and unnatural dialogue that meld poetry and prose, forming an intimidating script. Given that Colgate is not especially known for its Theatre department, the ability of the student actors to tackle such a complex script, even under excellent directing, could be called into question. One word describes the results of their response to this lofty challenge: phenomenal.
Quite simply, Andrew Burten commanded the stage. The importance of his role was integral; the entire show revolved around the prgressions, decisions and whims of Burten’s character. And he did not disappoint, taking the multiple years worth of stage experience and putting it to use. As the lead actor, Burten carried the show with casual grace and deep intensity, not missing a beat throughout the entire Sunday performance.
Other cast members deserve high praise, as well.
Dunbar was equally exceptional acting as the almost perpetually drunken father figure. Crawling inside his character as deeply as his character was crawling into the bottle, watching Dunbar onstage was a joy; his performance was flawless.
Junior Alexander Korman and first-year Becca McArthur provided some interesting subplots, as they respectively portrayed Henry’s best friend Johnny and Henry’s ex-fiancee Molly. Korman and McArthur managed to strike the delicate balance required between sirenesque and pure; combined with Korman’s earnesty, the chemistry between them is believable, holding even during scenes of confrontation with Burten’s character.
A definite audience favorite was first-year Andrew Grego as Max the Drunkard. With nonstop energy, compelling stage presence and often lewd posturing, he kept viewers captivated and entertained with his “extraordinary finger” and wonderfully genuine acting.
The rest of the cast definitely held their own, featuring Templeton as Mother and a strong supporting cast of eight students acting as “Dignitaries, Traitors, Chamberlains, Lackeys, Courtiers, and Guests.” There simply was not a weak link.
The Marriage was not always easy to watch. The play was long, the lines were quick, the costumes were bright and the atmosphere was incessantly unsettling. This show was absolutely not a romantic comedy meant to pleasantly fill a Sunday afternoon, and that is precisely why the skill of the performance was so impressive. The strength of the actors and the excellent staging successfully brought a difficult, opaque drama to brilliant life. If you missed this show, you missed the best show of the year. Period.