Blue Room’s The Dresser is theater at its best
The set of the Blue Room’s production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, designed by Amber Miller, transports us to the backstage of an old English theater during the air raids of WW II, complete with a surprising and subtle effect of plaster falling from the ceiling when the bombs hit.
Three areas of the play, directed by the venerable Brad Moniz, are depicted with clever efficiency by a scrim upstage right representing the backs of flats onstage, backlit to allow some viewing of the play-within-the-play from the rear, a raised platform center which is the general backstage area, and steps leading down to the dressing room of Sir, the leading man and head of the company, played with tragic, blustery finesse by Jerry Miller.
The show opens with Joe Hilsee as Norman, the dresser serving Sir, sitting at a lighted vanity, and Amber Miller as Her Ladyship, wife and leading lady to Sir, heatedly discussing the recent hospitalization of the neurotic leading man after a public fit and collapse. Norman paints an animated picture of a great talent on the verge of madness, whom he is obliged to placate, “using my best nanny voice—you know, the one I use when he is being wayward.” Years of history and frustration between the characters is established, and we understand instantly that this crisis has been brewing for a long time.
As the other actors and crew arrive for the evening’s performance of King Lear, the fear that Sir will not be able to go on for the first time due to his illness pervades the group like a dark fog. When Sir finally appears, looking wild-eyed and speaking with a tenuous grip on reality, we are given the rare chance to see inside a man at the end of his rope, in his final gasping, weeping, raging, all-too-human frailty.
This show is so rich with arresting moments, from the comic build of Hillsee’s “I had a friend” asides in monologue and the struggles of Sir to go on with the show, and his life, to the pain and disappointment of the women in Sir’s life, living in his shadow.
The supporting cast is solid, with an impressive turn by Brett Edwards as the palsied, aging Geoffrey Thornton playing the Fool in Lear.