Those are the attitudes Tralen Doler portrays in Richard Greenberg's The Dazzle (at ARt through Jan. 28) -- and Doler's projecting of such contradictions in his well-rounded performance as Langley is only one of this show's many triumphs.
Michael Weaver's well-observed production features a trio of brilliant actors, an informative set, and moments of whimsy and sadness that never condescend. Greenberg's literate script overflows with verbal and philosophical surprises, yearning to display humanity at its best.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & wo men, brothers, co-exist in a four-story mansion in Harlem for nearly 40 years. All around them, the world has changed. But inside their cluttered Victorian, the only change has been the inexorable accumulation of junk. It took workmen weeks to clear out the rooms and discover one of the bodies.
Really happened. But why? Why would two agoraphobic and compulsive collectors choose to live this way? What was in it for them? Greenberg's much-fictionalized Collyer brothers bind themselves in a self-devised nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space. But they're choked by their own tchotchkes.
Many of us are packrats, but few of us delight in detritus the way Langley does. He's a concert pianist, the kind who's such a connoisseur of music's power that he never quite gets around to sharing his gift in public -- you know, in things like concerts.
Quirky and compulsive and inspiring in the first act, Langley's tantrums reveal themselves as self-indulgent later on. Dolen has too much youthful vigor in those scenes for a character who's supposed to have aged -- but his Langley finds something exquisite in the quivering of a musical note or a tree leaf, and there's a lesson in that for all of us.
Julie Zimmer plays an heiress who sees a way to get back at her family by throwing herself at an eccentric. Her wide-armed, life-embracing spins denote a woman who'll be attracted to a man who hears syllables and responds with novels. Zimmer lights up whenever she sees Langley, but also conveys her distrust of the meddling (in her eyes) brother Homer. In the first act, she performs a seduction scene with no-touch dancing that's, well, quite a bit more alluring than all the brothers' jabbering (good as it is) about philosophy. A wise and sexy performance.
Mathew Ahrens (the overeager scholar in The Golden Age, ARt's season opener) is a revelation as Homer -- sarcastic and a little jealous in the early going (while still conveying his depth of affection for the addled Langley), then tragic later without ever giving up on Homer's hopes for a better life. Like his brother, he's an idealist who doesn't quite know how to make his ideals come true. Ahrens' Homer kept evoking Oscar Wilde for me: exquisitely witty and sensitive, unjustly treated by the world.
Jamie Flanery's set and Kimberly Crawley's furnishings practically constitute a fourth onstage character: bicycle rims and bric-a-brac, a tea service teetering on mounds of magazines, crap cluttering every cranny. So many objects strewn about, visually engaging and yet repulsive at the same time: exactly Greenberg's intent, and a good example of set design that supports the theme while still giving the actors room to maneuver.
"Tragedy," one character tells us, "is when a few of us sink to the level where most of us usually are." And tragic things happen to the quietly desperate trio in this nonetheless often witty and funny play. Along the way, there's the loneliness of the eccentric, the regret of self-denied pleasure, the costs of an unconventional life.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s full of comic zingers as the first act is, there's a scene late in the play that recalls Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit: Three characters, trapped in a hell of their own devising, each longing for one of the others and yet blocked from their desire by the third. If that sounds a little too black-beret-and-cigarettes serious for you, know that the emotional moments in The Dazzle, both comic and sad (and other than Langley's tantrums) tend to be understated. Through it all, the dazzle of life's miracles shines forth.
Greenberg's witticisms crackle by so fast that the audience's grins escalate to chuckles and then to outright laughter. And yet the play's conclusion -- full of love that's misdirected, misconstrued -- brought tears to many eyes. For a couple of concluding scenes, the opening-night audience was as quiet and attentive as any in my experience.
Enraptured? That's saying too much. But few will leave Greenberg's play -- or a production of it as dazzling as this one -- emotionally untouched. For attempting much and achieving nearly all, ARt's The Dazzle looks to be the show of the year in Spokane's theater season.