Friday, April 22, 2011

theatre notes. O Lovely Glowworm.

(in memory of Mark Chamberlin).

I had planned to see New Century Theatre Company's production of O Lovely Glowworm even before the untimely death of Mark Chamberlin a month ago. He had been very much involved with the company from the beginning, and was already in rehearsals as the Goat when he died. In the wake of his passing, another founding member of the company, Michael Patten, stepped in, and this tightly knit small cast pulled together a beautiful production dedicated to Mark's memory. Throughout the tender "scenes of beauty" that make up the play there seemed to be an undercurrent of grief and loss for a fallen comrade, or perhaps I was imagining it. Perhaps I was imagining that shattering poignancy to every word. Perhaps it was all really there.

O Lovely Glowworm is a shape-shifting creature, a tangle of fables that leap from one to another. At first I can't tell where the separate stories are headed, until the second act when they begin to collide and then intersect. The thread that ties everything together is very simple: our never-ending human need for love, desire, faith, that is almost an ache. This thread is pulled and twisted by the Goat, who looks on with longing at the human comedies and dramas that swirl around him like the eddies and whirlpools that guard Philomel, the mermaid who lives in the lake. I am confused and enchanted at the end, and I want to see it all over again.

The New Century Theatre Company feels like an actor's theatre company, more born out of a collective passion of a group of performers than a single director's vision. In my program is a list of people who have donated to the company over the last year; I recognize many of them as actors whom I've seen on Seattle stages over the past twenty years. Sitting behind me in the audience is Anne Allgood, who I remember from Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll and one of the Pinter Fortnightly readings last year. (I introduce myself at intermission, telling her I recognized her laugh; I'm learning not to be shy). Nearly all the actors onstage are familiar to me, and I remember all over again why I've come: theatre is about passion and faith, and it gives me something to believe in. It is an enduring kind of love.

It would not be fair to Michael Patten and his wonderful performance to try and imagine Mark Chamberlin as the Goat. But his presence seemed to be there, still. The part that moved me most to tears was when the Taxidermist (Patten, in one of his shape-shifting roles) prepares the goat (a stuffed dummy, really), talking to him all the while. "You are loved," he says, gently. For a moment I am not entirely sure if he is only speaking to the goat.

O Lovely Glowworm, presented by the New Century Theatre Company, performs at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway until May 14.

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