Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Thornton Wilder story and Matthew Burnett's play are set in an earlier America, in a different social strata. Theophilus awakes one day, end of term, to realize that his teaching job at a private academy for boys is stagnating the life he imagined for himself. He purchases a $25 car and heads off in search of fulfillment and the adventure he wildly craves. Even in 1926, that piddling amount doesn't buy much in the automotive world and, no surprise, doesn't transport him very far toward his dreams, from New Jersey to Newport Rhode Island. It is here in the world of America's elite moneyed, that Theophilus settles in as a man for hire in a wide variety of tasks. As played by Asolo Conservatory alumnus Brett Mack, he has the stiff upper crust of a Yale man but not the pedigree to fit in with Newport's "to the manner born," more like halfway between the servants and the masters.
An accomplished ensemble of three men and three women inhabit all the other characters, some inanimate. It is a testament to Wilder's rich prose that Burnett's adaptation doesn't become a flashy acting exercise, mostly for actors to show off versatility. Dylan Crow is Man #1. His characters include a snobbish, insecure teenager (his best), a casino owner, and a philandering husband. Andrew Bosworth is Man #2. His best characterization is a teacher about to elope with a party girl above his class, while his portrayal of a butler stuffs his shirt beautifully. Don Walker plays all the older males and does what he always doeslights up the stage. Best is his millionaire under the domination of his daughter. Ally Farzetta, Woman #1, is precocious as a 14-year-old tennis student, sister to Dylan Crow's teenager, and hilarious as the party girl. Alex Pelletier, Woman #2, excels as the millionaire's daughter and has a few delightful moments as the car right near the top of act one. Roxanne Fay disappears into a series of older women, mostly of the servant class. Everyone except Ms. Fay and Mr. Walker are fairly recent Asolo Conservatory alumni, living proof of why it is one of the top ten acting schools in the country.
As directed by Laura Braza, the play proves lively and entertaining for its two hour running time. Act one seems in and out of focus a bit, but that is because the stories don't have quite enough emotional depth or the strong connections between our hero and the denizens of Newport that blossom in act two, where the overall theme becomes clearer. The denouement begins strongly, but I find the very last few minutes a touch mushy, possibly the fault of the original novel. All of the action is set on a simple, open set by Steven Kemp, overlooking a lighthouse, which offers enough variety for continuous visual interest. Costumes by Dee Sullivan are period perfect and the technical highlight of the production. Alex Pinchin's sound design adds atmosphere throughout the evening.
Theophilus North is a great start for Dog Days' third season, a welcome change of tone when the second season was perhaps a little too much an almost carbon copy of the first. Audiences should find themselves entertained by a stage full of quirky characters and a chance to visit a time long ago.
Theophilus North, through July 28, 2019, at Dog Days Theatre, Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit asolorep.org/dogdays.
Cast (in alphabetical order):