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The Wooden Breeks
Set in late 19th Century Scotland The Wooden Breeks begins in a hamlet named Clekan-wittit, and moves onto to another named Brood that's conjured up by a poetic tinker in who's unable to let go of his love for a woman who left him first for a sailor and then permanently. During the nine years Tom Bosch (Adam Rothenbegr) has spent many a gloomy hour at his tinker's fire and mooning over his beloved Hetty's (Ana Reeder) disappearance. He's displaced his anger by refusing to have much to do with the child (by the sailor) Hetty abandoned when she left on an errand, promising to return before his fire died. Yet he has occasionally regaled young Wicker (Jaymie Dornan) with stories about Hetty in various places and situations which feed the boy's conviction that his mother will one day return.. As the play opens, Bosch, is determined to leave Clekan-wittit and all its memories once and for all, but his fire in fairy tale fashion resists being doused and he is more or less forced to tell a final story. Into this story which comprises the bulk of the play, the tinker incorporates his determination to snuff out the inextinguishable embers that feed his memories. And so, off he and Wicker go to Brood.
Berger's fairy tale begs descriptive tags like whimsical, wistfully wise and endearingly quaint -- and, alas, gloomy and disjointed. Its characters speak with pseudo Scottish brogues but there's no Scottish mist to obscure its obvious symbolic theme: There's more to death than burial in a wooden breek (breeks is Scotch for trousers, so that wooden breeks are coffins). Wishful dreams, fear, unrelinquished memories and regrets can lock you into an earthly wooden breek -- in short, the living death of a life not fully lived.
Like any fairy tale this one needs a fairy, in this case one who will rescue Bosch and the Broodians he's invented from being buried alive long before they're due to encounter the Grim Reaper. Mr. Berger's good fairy is one Anna Livia Spoon who happens to look just like Hetty (no wonder, as she's again played by Reeder). She shows up in Brood as a saleswoman for a company that sells lights to be placed on top of graves with a cord reaching inside the coffins to enable people inadvertently buried alive to signal for help should they wake up. This plot twist was inspired by a real panic that at one time swept Britain when coffins randomly unearthed were found to contain scratch marks inside the lids-- apparently from people mistakenly pronounced dead.
Miss Spoon is summoned by Bosch for the specific purpose of helping him to snuff out the flame in the Brood Lighthouse guarded from access by Jarl von Hoother (T. Ryder Smith), a bookish recluse. Spoon's resemblance to Hetty immediately raises Wicker's hopes that he's found his mother at last. The buried in books Lighthouse keeper and the saleswoman who feeds into the villagers' mounting anxiety about people having been buried alive are of course just part of the Broodian population.
There's Vicar Enry Leap (Steve Mellor) who nurses a secret passion for Mrs. Nelles (Veanne Cox), who has in turn has been nursing her grief over her daughter's death for years. Since Mrs. Nelles has kept her pub (Brood's only public house) shut since the her tragic loss, she's also made Brood Scotland's driest town. This being a comedy, Mrs. Nelles has filled her own teacup from a whiskey barrel rather than a teapot, thereby diminishing the town's whiskey reserves all by herself. Other townspeople include Toom the Stoup (Ron Cephas Jones), a Shakespeare like gravedigger and two young lovers, Tricity Tiara (Maria Dizzia) and Armitage Shanks (Louis Cancelmi) who are determined not to let marriage ruin their love.
Trip Cullman's staging creates just the right gloomy aura but neither he or the script move with ease between gloom and whimsy. Beowulff Boritt's multi-level, movable weathered wood set handily accommodates the segues from the tinker's compulsive fireside watch in Clekan-wittit to re-enactments of his doomed love affair as well as the events in the town of his imagination. Anita Yavich 's costumes are an apt mix of drabness and wit (like the shovel that's part of Toom the Stoup's costume).
Adam Rothenberg is appealing as the lovelorn tinker, as is Ana Reeder as both his disappearing sweetheart and Miss Spoon. Veanne Cox, always a marvel of nuanced comedy, is terrific as Mrs. Nelles. You couldn't wish for a better book-besotted lighthouse keeper than T. Ryder Smith, who starred in Berger's off-beat Off-Broadway solo hit, Underneath the Lintel (Review).
I have no complaints about the rest of the ensemble. If only the author and director could have trimmed all this to a length that could play without an intermission and in the process peel away some of the more tiresome and confusing elements. Ultimately, how you react to this play will depend on your tolerance for offbeat, unabashedly fanciful fairy tales that are way more than a wee bit too long.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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