A Dance of Light and Dark
Ricky Oliver as Eugene, Mary C. Davis as Eugenia, Tommy Dickie as Stomil, and Ruth Coughlin as Eleonora in Tango by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Shana Gozansky, Brown/Trinity Rep MFA '12.
In Tango, members of the Brown/Trinity MFA class of 2012 bring Slawomir Mrozek’s eloquent dance of light and dark to the stage in Providence.
Director Shana Gozansky places the audience right in the thick of Tango’s madness. The set is lined with about fifty seats in total, and so the audience is stuck onstage for it all: the awkward, the hilarious and the unnerving.
Will Austin plays Arthur, a structured young Polish man who is fed up with his family’s reckless, Bohemian lifestyle. Austin’s Arthur is intense and judgmental, a bear trap ready to snap at any moment. He just as easily could have been playing a modern Hamlet — distraught by his mother’s adultery, enraged by the entire generation before him, rambling to the point of incoherence.
Arthur’s mother, Eleonora, played by Ruth Coughlin, and father, Stomil, played by Tommy Dickie, are great foils to Arthur’s patriarchal ways. They live like children without major consequences: Eleonora takes on a lover, the simple-minded Eddie played by Charlie Thurston, and Stomil refuses to button up the fly of his soiled pajamas.
Uncle Eugene, played by Ricky Oliver, and cousin Ala, played by Alexandra Lawrence, resist ever so slightly against the wayward ways of the household, and eventually conspire with Arthur against the rest of the family. “I need to rebuild the world, and for that, I need a wedding,” Arthur tells Ala, trying to convince her to marry him.
Laughable moments monopolize the first half of the play. In particular, my companion got a kick out of seeing blue-haired grandma Eugenia, played by Mary C. Davis, cruising around the set on roller skates. Davis played an excellent senile, elderly woman. Her timing was perfect (and often slow), bringing the hilarity of old age back to the stage.
The second half, however, is dominated by Arthur’s increasing frustration and (alcohol-induced) rage, with only few comedic spots for the audience to grasp onto. The moment in which Eleonora, Eugenia, Stomil and Eugene pose for a family portrait before Ala and Arthur’s wedding is comedy in its purest form.
Eugene sets the camera, and the family stands together, motionless, for several seconds waiting for the flash (Eugenia is pouting and Stomil is trying to resist the itch of his suit against his skin). When the flash doesn’t come, only then does Eugene admit the camera is broken. He convinced the family to pose for the photo merely keep the wedding day tradition intact.
After this brief comedic respite, the play takes a dark turn and doesn’t fully recover. Arthur's sanity begins to unravel, and murderous plans begin to take effect.
But what makes this production work is the actors’ ability to shift from comedy to tragedy so flawlessly. Even in the final scene, when actors Oliver and Thurston dance a most elegantly crafted tango choreographed by Shura Baryshnikov, the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity of it all or be blown away at how well they’re dancing together.
But the precedent had already been set that anything light can turn to dark, and the final tango follows suit.
Tango will run through May 13 at the Pell Chafee Performance Center, 87 Empire St., Providence. Tickets are $12. Call 351-4242 or visit trinityrep.com for more information.