Every time someone says they’ve heard K-State’s little Purple Masque Theater will be moved from East Memorial Stadium to West Memorial Stadium, two or three generations of alums wonder if Nick the ghost will move along with it.
Then last weekend, director Ariane Springer’s heady version of Terrence McNally’s “Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams” graced the little thrust stage. And in its last scene, the play’s own ghost made an appearance.
McNally is an interesting contemporary playwright we know for “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune,” “A Perfect Ganesh,” “Master Class”and some adaptations.
“Dedication”reminds us that he can mass sufficient developments to give a stage play some power. But this play becomes, eventually, a vehicle for an oddly limited discussion of euthanasia. And this is one of the things that makes watching it a problematic experience.
Luckily, Springer has her characters behaving as theatrically as their circumstances dictate. Sometimes one set of characters’ inflated reality doesn’t merge well with another set of characters’ inflated reality—Jessie’s life is stagy in ways incompatible with those of her daughter’s. But by letting all the scenery gnawers go to it, the production takes the viewer into a new semi-reality, somewhere we’ve never before traveled.
The story is that it is Lou’s birthday. Lou (Ben Windholz) runs a children’s theater in an upstate New York shopping mall. To mark the occasion, the woman recognized locally as his wife, Jessie (Diana Watts) arranges for Lou to see the inside of the local boarded-up, downtown theater. But to gain the permission of the rich, old theater owner, Mrs. Willard (Amanda Garvey), Jessie tells her that Lou has cancer.
So does Mrs. Willard. She passes along the keys. Jessie scouts the place out with her longtime lover Arnold (James Sherwood), an Englishman who volunteers as the kid’s theater’s technical director. Then she brings Lou in for his surprise tour. He loves the place and wishes they had it for their company to use.
Eventually they will ask the hard-drinking Mrs. Willard to give it to them. But first there are moments of tension caused by the arrival of Jessie’s adult daughter Ida (Cara Hillstock), a very popular pop music singer, who arrives with her toady Toby (Matt Harrison) to fulfill one of the twelve steps of her rehab: she must ask her mother to forgive her.
Rich Ida sneers at the amateur basis of everything her mother does. She also intuits the existence of Ma’s affair. And she admits that she is herself pregnant. These issues don’t get full treatment in the play, which is in a hurry to force Lou and Jessie’s relationship to a crisis and to have Mrs. Willard offer to give Lou the theater and money if he will put her out of her misery. And then that issue doesn’t get full discussion. The flirtation of the old lady’s driver, Edward (Christian Mullen) with Lou only offers odd false hope.
The play also introduces theatrical mechanisms of a practical sort—a wind machine, a sheet of thunder-making galvanized metal, and a full-sized guillotine. But as is sometimes the case with McNally, he makes shaky assumptions about what his audience will know and believe. The idea of using that guillotine in Ida’s stage act simply reminded me of Alice Cooper, and this led me way off the subject. Euthanasia is going to seem immoral to a fair percentage of theater goers—not unpleasant but wrong. Views will not be confident the play recognizes this.
Nevertheless, the production had power. Technical concerns were all well managed, the actors were well-cast and rehearsed, and the entertainment was funny as well as dramatic and just the least little bit sweet. Whatever happens to Nick, the Masque will always be haunted by memories of moving old performances, of which this “Dedication” will be one.