‘Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People’ Rides through literary history
by Alec Clayton
Dale Sharp as Jack, Stephani Hemness as Gwendolyn, Meghan Goodman as Lady Bracknell, Ethan Bujeaud as Algernon, Katelyn May as Cecily, and Rodman Bolek as Bunbury. Photos by Toni Holm.
I had never heard of Bunbury before Olympia Little Theatre announced they were doing it; so I went to see it with mild expectations, trusting that since Pug Bujeaud was directing it, it had to be good.
I just never expected it to be as good as it is. From the dazzling script by Tom Jacobson to the beautiful set (no set designer listed in the program), to Edith Campbell’s lighting, to an outstanding cast let by Rodman Bolek as Bunbury and Shannon Agostinelli as Rosaline, every aspect of this literary comedy comes together perfectly.
|Rodman Bolek as Bunbury.|
Bunbury is a fictional character invented by Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. In Jacobson’s play he is a living being. The play opens with Bunbury reclining indolently on a settee with a glass of wine ruminating about literature to his butler Hartley (Drew Doyle), saying there is nothing new literature can say and all we can do is rearrange words already written. He muses about Rosaline from Romeo and Juliette. "If he (Romeo) had kept mooning over Rosaline, he'd be alive today.” But Rosaline never existed, never appeared onstage. “She's less than fiction," he argues. "She's subfictional."
And then Rosaline shows up speaking in iambic pentameter, and when they insert themselves in a scene from Romeo and Juliette, their arrival changes the story; they deduce that since literature influences life, they can change the world for the better by changing literature. So they set off together through the literature of the ages creating happy endings for dramas from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, changing the endings of their plays.
It is an intelligent and witty homage to the great literature of the ages, filled with quotes from great writers—quotes with modern comical twists.
The set is a textbook example of how to create million dollar sets on a few hundred dollars (or less) budgets. At the back of the stage is a stage front with a plush red curtain and above it the play title in an elegant script. When the action begins, the title fades, replaced by still-image projections indicating various locations and events. Needed props are brought in and out through the curtain on a moving platform.
The costumes by Barb Matthews are terrific, as is the makeup on various characters: from making Michael Christopher look a convincing 96 as Old Algernon; to making it almost impossible to tell the same actor, Meghan Goodman, portrays Lady Bracknell, Old Cecily and Irina; to Dale Sharp’s pencil mustache to his drag makeup as Juliette.
Bolek throws himself into the role of Bunbury with passion, vigor and sly wit. Agostinelli is so loveable and funny as Rosaline she makes you wonder how Romeo could have thrown her over for the wan and simpering Juliette. Sharp, in his OLT debut, is a comic genius. With a rubbery face reminiscent of great comics from Jerry Lewis to Jim Carry, he doesn’t have to say a word to elicit laughter; his facial expressions do the trick. Ethan Bujeaud, who Olympians have been watching on stage since he was eight years old, is at his mature best (so far) as Algernon and Allan. And Christopher is as masterful as ever as an unnamed “Lawyer” reciting Poe’s most famous poem and then as a radically different character as Old Algernon.
Without giving away too much of the ending, in the final scene the primary characters watch a moon landing on television while listening to a speech by a president who could only be president because Bunbury and Rosaline have changed literature and thus history.
Bunbury is simply wonderful. I can’t recommend it highly enough nor congratulate the cast and crew more heartily.
7:25 p.m. Thursday- Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through March 24
$11-$15, $2 student discount
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, (360) 786-9484, http://www.olympialittletheater.org
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