Family politics can be a very tricky area, often without rules or boundaries. Such is the pressing topic of August Strindberg’s The Pelican. While I applaud Voyage Theater Companies interest in bringing this rarely done work to the stage, their production leaves much to be desired, I hate to be so negative, but this production has many flaws and leaves the audience disappointed.
What happens when the matriarch of the family seduces her son-in-law and convinces him to marry her daughter just so she can be near him? Surely, no mother can be so cruel. But, unfortunately for her and her children, the Mother is vicious. Her children are not deaf to their mother’s wickedness. And following the death of their father, they quickly wise up and hatch their plan for revenge. Surprisingly, the romance between the mother and son-in-law is short lived and we see the bastardy of everyone involved. Roles reverse and we are taken on roller-coaster of a ride through power, hatred, suffering, and deep pain.
This could make for a gripping 75 minute drama. Sadly, poor acting and bad direction make this play feel lost and empty. Mary Round plays the Mother/Elise. Unfortunately, she is lacking in emotional life, which makes her performance fall completely flat. Round seems overwhelmed on stage and delivers a rather bleak performance. Nicholas Westmeyer and Malka Wallick do a better job with their respective roles of the brother and sister. They add some depth and dimension to their scenes and thus, are more interesting to watch. Thomas Brazzle plays Axel, the son-in-law forcefully. While Round lacks emotion, Brazzle drives his full throttle and bombards us with emotional indulgences that make his character seem over-the-top and fake. Pauline Walsh plays a minor role as a servant, and it’s too bad because she is a bright spot in this troubled production. Walsh is alive and present, which makes her the most desirable one on stage.
Directors, Charles C. Bales and Wayne Maugans do not help matters much. All too often, the actors upstage themselves and constantly have their backs to the audience. I can not help but wonder whether a lot of the flaws could have been helped by stronger and clearer direction. No doubt Strindberg is hard to do well, but one can not blame the script in totality for the shortcomings of this production. I really hope the cast and crew can iron some of these kinks out in the coming shows because this could make for a great evening at the theater, but it needs a lot of work to get there.
The Pelican plays until May 14th at the Fourth St. Theater 83 E 4th St. www. Voyagetheatercompany.org