nytheatre.com review by John Jordan
March 20, 2007
Fugue is fascinating! Not only Lee Thuna's imaginative, keeps-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, "no she didn't," comedic-drama/mystery/memory play, but the word "fugue" itself.
I have to admit, I ran to the online dictionary before deciding to review the show to learn how to pronounce the word, and to figure out what it meant. Based on the press release for the current Cherry Lane Production of Fugue, I chose the following definition from the Free Dictionary by Farlex:
fugue ('fyüg) (n.) a pathological state of altered consciousness in which an individual may act and wander around as though conscious but their behavior is not directed by their complete normal personality.
In Thuna's Fugue, the poor individual of said definition has come to be known as Mary Smith, a name given to her at a hospital in Chicago, where she is found wandering the streets. Against his wishes, Dr. Lucchesi (Danny, as he prefers), a laid-back guy's guy, is assigned to Mary's case by Dr. John Oleander. As Danny has been on "sabbatical" for five years after problems with a patient, he is not ready to come back to work. However, with some convincing by Dr. Oleander, Danny agrees to one meeting with Mary, which is all it takes for him to get drawn into her plight.
Mary has no idea who she is or who she was, or why she was walking around with her feet blistered and bloody. During her sessions with Danny she has flashes of people, in both visions and voices. These include her mother, a young painter named Noel, a young girl named Tammy who may or may not be her daughter, and a mysterious woman named "Kru" who may or may not be out to harm Tammy. These visions and voices eventually stick around long enough to become Mary's memories, which are played out for Danny, the audience, and the always unseen, always observing psychiatrists. But are these memories real, or is she making it all up?
Meanwhile, another mysterious woman named Zelda recognizes a photo released to the media of Mary as that of her childhood friend, Cecelia ("CeCe"). Zelda's presence and storytelling eventually will help bring to light some information for Mary, or is it Cecelia? Or perhaps Zelda is not who she says she is? Looking for fame perhaps?
Mary lets on at one point during the first act that she believes once she knows her name she will know who she is. Watching her go through this process is what puts the fascinating in Fugue. This is surely a star-making opportunity for anyone playing the role of Mary, and Deirdre O'Connell, an off-Broadway star in her own right already, goes above and beyond the call. O'Connell is remarkably natural on stage. It's incredible to just observe her on this particular stage, which is Mary's hospital room, where she is constantly being observed. There is so much going on inside her head and she controls it excellently. Brava!
Rick Stear initially plays Danny as the stereotypical "I'm a cool guy with long, cool hair," but graciously drops that persona after a few scenes to turn out a fine, layered performance as the troubled young doctor.
Things heat up when Charlotte Booker's Zelda enters the playing field, because the actress is extremely funny and knows how to play the game. She zooms in with this character that doesn't really seem to fit into the picture, but keeps her place throughout.
Catherine Wolf commands the stage with her portrayal of Mary's stern, old-country mother. Kudos must go to Danielle Skraastad for her terrific and solid portrayal of Liz "Kru" Kruger, perhaps the most mysterious character in the show. Even when not speaking, Skraastad kept me guessing.
Ari Butler (Noel) is rather convincing as a '50s Brooklyn teenager, but his accent on the night reviewed was noticeably uneven. Also Lily Corvo (Tammy) finds moments to shine during her performance as her character tackles several different emotions, but probably lacks the experience needed to find those little nuances which would add some depth to Tammy's portrayal. Liam Craig is too flat and robotic in his portrayal of Dr. Oleander, never quite finding the mystery of his character.
The direction by Judith Ivey is wonderful. The staging is brilliant, especially the movement and action whenever a memory scene is involved.
The set design by Neil Patel is simple, yet phenomenal, consisting of a catwalk, a staircase, and a hospital room with a working door. From a distance, all three resemble pieces of a puzzle. I very much enjoyed the sound design by T. Richard Fitzgerald and Carl Casella, as well, especially the echo-factor of each "memory" voice.
The costume design by Gail Cooper-Hecht incorporates each era as needed, again adding more clues. The lighting design by Pat Dignan is sharp and the music by Stanley Silverman soft and mysterious.
Note: this production includes onstage sexual situations and mature subject matter.