Cruel and Tender

Wed 2nd – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

John Miller

at 09:37 on 3rd Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

Cruel and Tender is a contemporary version of Trachinae, Sophocles’ immortal tragedy. Replication is often difficult, particularly when integrating contemporary events and criticism. The Trachinae chronicled the relationship between a warrior, Heracles and his jealous wife, Deianeira. In the grandeur of conquest, Heracles takes a city in order to seize a mistress. When word arrives home in the form of the mistress, Deianeira is jealous of the younger woman. In an errant attempt to re-win his affections, she receives a mystical potion that will rekindle his love for her. Tragically, the mystical potion is actually poisoned. In an act so familiar in the work of Sophocles, Deianeira commits suicide and Heracles dies suffering, yet aware that Deianeira committed this act out of love.

In this rendition, the setting and period has changed. The far-off conquest and conflict is replaced with the War on Terror, Heracles is now a modern General. His wife is Amelia, a pretentious, jealous, and perhaps even desperate socialite. While the General is off in Africa, her discontent for the War and her husband grows. When he sends back two Africans to live with his wife, Amelia must decide whether the young girl and her apparent son are a mistress and an illegitimate child or refugees. In a seemingly weird gesture, Amelia sends a pillow to her husband, which knowingly or unknowingly is poisoned, perpetuating the recreation of the tragedy in modern terms.

The plot in general requires a significant suspension of disbelief, which would otherwise be more or less accepted in the deterministic, mythical, and even mystical Grecian form. First, Amelia sends her son to find his father in the war zone. Second, chemical weapons are mistaken for a nuanced love potion. Third, the direct participation in war crimes by a senior officer is rather close to the improbable given embedded media outlets. Fourth, the modern, professional military would not permit refugees to come home as spoils of war. While the analogy is not lost, it is weakened by these plot weaknesses and anachronisms. Ironically, Crimp’s criticism is of the civil-military divide is accentuated by his own lack of knowledge.

These weaknesses do not entirely hinder the recreation of the tragedy. The chorus is insightfully replaced with the shallowness and comedic relief of three housekeepers. The setting takes place entirely in the bedroom, which sets the desolate mood and highlights the centrality of physical conquest. The unfinished walls, exposed to the frame, depict the destruction of the home. With a flashlight, Richard (Michael Cotton) replaces the soothsayer of the tragedy, illuminating the real identity of the young girl. The mutual catharsis of the General and Amelia is powerful; the tragic value is real as the General, through his action, has destroyed the very thing that he nobly sought to defend. He has become the terrorist: destroying a city, conquesting a young woman, and driving his wife to insanity.

Amelia (Megan Roberts) commands the stage in this performance. Her monologues were well-delivered and well-received. She captured the full-gamut of emotion that is experienced by the military wife. The chorus (Matilda Wnek, Kesia Guillery, and Ailis Creavin) enhanced her performance by highlighting both the separation of Amelia from society and society’s separation from the War on Terror and the rest of the not-so suburban world. The General (Lawrence Bowles) did not initially impress. Foreshadowing implied that he was already an invalid, yet he appears strong on the stage. As his hysteria rose in the final scene, The General recaptured the character, but it was almost too late. Serving as the foil to Amelia, Laela (Nys Joseph-Mitchell), the young mistress, delivers a pithy performance in her stage debut. If the play was a bildungsroman, James (Jack Parlett) masterfully captures the coming of age of a young man, whose father remained in permanent abstention. The dynamic of the character could only be captured by such a performance. Jonathon (Phil Howe) wonderfully depicts the villainous and antagonistic role of the government, which sends its men and women to fight and to kill, yet abandons them. Jonathon plays the politician to perfection, enjoying the fruits of the forbidden tree made possible by the General. As a rule, the cast was superb.

In all, the performance was excellent. As one can imagine, the play is difficult to execute. The cast and crew put forth an excellent effort, but were ultimately constrained by Martin Crimp’s inability to understand and deliver a realistic product. His valid social criticism is hindered by his own lack of information and understanding of political and social reality.

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