nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
April 22, 2009
In Anthony Clarvoe's The Living, we hear echoes of our collective past that sound startlingly like the present.
Set in 17th century, The Living follows the lives of several citizens of London in a time when the city is being ravaged by the bubonic plague. We follow John Graunt—a real scientist of the time who attempted to apply statistics to the mortality rolls of London in order to prevent the plague. We follow the Lord Mayor John Lawrence—a member of the nobility who finds his nominal post as Lord Mayor of London has suddenly become very real, as the rest of the nobility flees the city for fear of the plague. We also follow Sarah Chandler, a shopkeeper's wife with two children who suddenly finds herself cut off from her family and the only life she's ever known. In the selflessness of the mayor, the ingenuity of the scientist, and shopkeeper's wife's will to survive, we hear echoes of the past that sound in the present and celebrate humanity's ability to endure, despite all obstacles. And in the government's inaction in the face of catastrophe, we hear all too loudly something we wish had faded away long ago.
In choosing to revive The Living, Stone Soup Theatre Arts has selected an ambitious play that tackles weighty subjects that continue to resonate today, a feat that is to be commended. That being said, the production Stone Soup is now presenting is decidedly uneven. Several cast members give strong performances—Gregory Lay as the scientist John Graunt has a good grasp of his character and the language of the piece, and Sarah Todes as Sarah Chandler is a strong and heartfelt presence throughout. The costume design by David Moyer is well thought out and well executed—the haunting hawk-like hoods of the plague physicians are particularly impressive.
However many in the large ensemble give scattershot performances, which makes for jarring moments throughout the piece. These are only accentuated by the choice to cast much of the ensemble against age/gender without apparent justification in the play itself or the production concept. Overall the production feels weighed down by the subject it's addressing, and instead of engaging the audience on a human level feels very one note and even preachy at times.
While Stone Soup Theatre Arts should get a great deal of credit for producing this ambitious revival of The Living, the production itself is unfortunately problematic. However I am certain that when the ambitions of this group of passionate artists is met with equal execution, their work will be something to watch out for.