The Mystery of Perry Clews directed by Andy Birsh at Adams House April 29-May 1 at 8:15 p.m.; May 1 also at 11 p.m.
SHAKESPEARE'S "PERICLES" is perhaps the ultimate romantic comedy--at the end, father and daughter are reunited, and mother returns from the dead. Apparently finding this a little hard to accept in this age of glorified angst, John Cromwell '36 decided to write a modern version of the Shakespeare play, describing what happens after the curtains close on Pericle's happy family.
So far, so good. The problem with "The Mystery of Perry Clews" is that, from his initial idea of turning a romantic comedy into an existential tragedy, Cromwell goes on to throw in a little of every modern dramatic technique available. We get flashbacks, fantasies, and changing perspectives. He gives us satire, Freudian complexes, and some theater of the absurd for good measure. Shakespeare's plot is hard enough to follow; Cromwell's is almost impenetrable.
Given its built-in chaos, "Perry Clews" would be a challenge to any theater company. That the Adams House Drama Society took it on is a credit to its ambitiousness, if not to its sense of proportion. Not surprisingly, the show is less than masterful.
All the main parts call for frequent changes in character; unfortunately, these changes have to be absolutely clear-cut if the play is to make sense, and very few of them are. Jeffrey Harper's Perry is an overly blustery old man, and an overly vapid young one. Jill Clayton is even less believable in her role of the understanding mother and repressed woman. Alison Becker's Marina, the daughter who is sometimes a child, sometimes a sensuous torch-singer, and sometimes a cynical adolescent who rejects moral absolutes, is the best realized of the three, but even she can't quite draw the fine lines between each characterization her part requires. The rest of the cast is worse than the leads--but it would take an entire cast of geniuses to get Cromwell's well-obscured point across.
Not that the director, Andy Birsh, doesn't try. You can always tell when an important line is coming up, because the actor invariably stares meaningfully off-stage before saying it. But Birsh has left the actors with nothing to do with their hands as they stare into space, and the result is a series of painful moments in which both the audience and the actor grope for some definite issue.
The production itself is fairly interesting, with a bare, three-sided stage and an ingenious arrangement of hanging props that drop to signal scene changes. Even the proficient technical direction, however, fails to shed much light on the subject.
But the flashy sound and light effects only serve to underline the disaster of the show as a whole. "The Mystery of Perry Clews" ends up somewhere between Shakespeare's comedy and Cromwell's angst, in the nebulous area of confusion.
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