Josiah Martin | A&E Editor
Admittedly, apart from “Send in the Clowns,” I knew very little about Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music going into the Red Masquers’ production this week. In a way, I’m glad this was the case; the plot’s turns and the rapid-fire jokes were all fresh to me, and executed brilliantly, as I am coming to expect from Duquesne’s Red Masquers.
The show opens with an overture of strikingly complex harmonies and counterpoint melodies from the omniscient quintet of singers that come and go throughout the show. These five actors nailed the vocal acrobatics Sondheim composed and immediately pulled me in. I was hooked.
The dialogue in the scenes that followed was fast, funny, smart and sexual. The show is, simply put, hilarious. This is a credit to terrific writing, but even more so to this particular group of actors. Comedy is not easy. Stumble a word, speak a second too late, and the whole line is shot. Every member of this cast seemed to have their comedic timing down to a science, without exception.
For example, when Petra (Emily Yuretich) uttered the relatively innocuous line, “my, that was a short play,” I worried my audible snort of laughter would disrupt the performance. The same goes for Madame Armfeldt (Lynne Franks) calmly proclaiming the understatement-of-the-year line, “a great deal seems to be going on in this house tonight.”
This cast’s ability to read and interact with each other allowed for not just comedy, but characters that felt genuine. I don’t feel it would be controversial to say that each lead character is deeply flawed in some way. Jealousy, pride, ignorance — they’re all uniquely pathetic, but equally endearing.
Michael Kirk’s portrayal of Count Malcolm is so comically perfect in his blinding jealousy, that when he briefly connects with Fredrik in “It Would Have Been Wonderful,” it is shocking how likable the character truly is.
Watch also for the romance between Fredrik (Jeff Way) and Desiree (Jill Jeffrey). They’re both ridiculous, self-centered people on the surface, but as these layers are peeled away, especially within the second act, you can’t help but feel for them.
Again, this is all certainly a testament to Sondheim, but the Masquers truly bring the show to life. Henrik’s constant, panicked self-pity and hopelessness is pushed to just the right degree by Garrett Hoffman. Carissa Warren portrays Anne as intelligent, empathetic, but deeply oblivious. Colleen Hammond expertly delivers my new favorite line in possibly anything ever, “I frequently laugh myself to sleep contemplating my own future.” It’s all masterful.
On the topic of masterful, nearly every song in the show — and specifically every song in the second act — is a near show-stopper. A particular shout-out is well-deserved for “The Miller’s Son,” an unexpected, beautifully introspective piece performed by Emily Yuretich in one of the most amazing performances in the whole show.
A musical and technical success, the Masquers do remarkably well considering their limited space. The Genesius theater is small — somehow, an entire orchestra is tucked away in a gaping hole in the middle of the small stage. When dancing, occasionally, our performers will seem all-too-keenly aware of the immediate death-pit in their midst. Watching them side-step it is slightly distracting, when not terrifying. If this show completes its run without an actor being swallowed into the orchestra pit, it will have been a miracle.
However, I can not fault the actors for the limitations of their space. In fact, I applaud the Masquers for taking on such a complex show in such a limited space, and hope the orchestra-in-a-hole approach is utilized again.
In fact, I hope all of these talents, all of this showmanship and all of this humor is utilized again. The Red Masquers still blow me away. A Little Night Music is well worth attending.
Some Duke staff members are active with the Red Masquers. Their participation in the show did not effect the content of this review.