Performance Network has a "Blonde" moment, with positive results
The blonde having the most fun in Performance Network’s production of Robert Hewett’s drama “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” is probably the show’s sole performer, Suzi Regan.
Playing seven different characters of various ages - all of whom are linked to, or affected by, a housewife’s act of violence in a shopping mall - Regan masterfully adjusts her vocal cadence, gait, dialect, gestures, and posture with each transition, and changes costume both on stage and while brightly backlit behind white screens.
This theatrical peek behind-the-scenes feels exactly right for a show that’s about how additional information and context can profoundly alter one’s perspective on an event. For as we hear each character’s story, the complicated truth of one fateful day’s events becomes increasingly clear.
Indeed, Hewett’s script amply rewards those who pay close attention. Subtle clues are planted everywhere in the text, so that although the central story of adultery and a marriage’s dissolution aren’t anything new, the unconventional manner in which it all unfolds makes the play positively riveting.
This partly stems from the fact that the audience feels involved and invested in piecing the details together to make sense of the whole; and watching a single actor take on seven very different personas contributes, of course, to the overall experience.
But Regan’s performance, more than anything, has to be what sells “Blonde,” and sell it she does. She mines the play's moments of humor, which only serve to enhance the impact of the story’s central tragedy; and while playing everything from a four year old boy to an elderly woman, Regan imbues each character with depth and humanity.
The one exception to this is a character that the playwright makes cartoonishly oafish and over-the-top, so as to provide the show with a too-easy villain - one of the script’s rare missteps. (Regan earned big laughs with the character, but ultimately, the person sticks out from the others by way of its one-dimensionality.)
Ultimately, though, “Blonde” is a fine example of the Network firing on all cylinders. Director David Wolber subtly employs each part of the stage, thereby ensuring that the show never feels static (a common concern for one-person shows); and the ebb and flow of Regan’s monologues skillfully balance the show’s need for both clarity and momentum.
Dan Walker’s meticulous lighting design, meanwhile, beautifully underscores the mood of each scene, as well as the reality being described (Regan’s bathed in bright, golden light as one character describes sitting in a sunroom, and a cool shade of green becomes her backdrop when another character speaks of feeling calm). In addition, Monika Essen’s costumes make it possible for Regan to make complete but relatively quick changes, and Walker's set design - consisting of three triptychs of tall, translucent white screens - underscores the way we often only see part of what’s happening before our eyes.
And while the play’s final scene flirts with sentimentality and contrivance, its takeaway - that we should, whenever possible, choose forgiveness over hate - is a more than worthwhile message.
Jenn McKee is a staff digital journalist for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.