Emilia Di Luca
When a wife encounters her husband’s mistress on Christmas Eve, a yelling match between the two ensues, right? Wrong. Instead, only one woman does the yelling.
Buddies in Bad Times presents Theatre Rusticle’s The Stronger Variations directed by Allyson McMackon, a play based on August Strindberg’s sketch The Stronger. In his sketch, Mme. X meets her husband’s mistress, Mme. Y. Mme. Y does not utter a word. First performed at Fringe in 2005, The Stronger Variations explores the wife’s emotions as she spirals into frustration thanks to the silent mistress.
The all-female cast (Liza Balkan, Andrya Duff, Viv Moore, Chala Hunter and Lucy Rupert) collectively portrays the wife in her many subconscious forms. The actors also transform from the wife to the mistress when they place berets on their heads. Together, they reenact a variation of encounters between the wife and the mistress. While many actors take turns portraying the wife, the play recycles the same lines and the actors repeat the same story, but in different contexts.
Sometimes, the wife faces her inner demons, which Moore literally embodies on stage. Other times, the wife calmly worships Rupert “like a goddess receiving sacrifice,” in the lingerie once hidden under her ‘50s dress. One time, Hunter and Duff even scrap it out in a hair-pulling, sucker-punching fight.
The actors’ physical stamina makes for stunning spectacles. Drawing on the housewife of the 1950s, the cast embodies wind-up dolls, because of their matching black and white dresses that echo the toy dolls’ dresses on stage (Dylan Bobier, costume designer).
The actors come and go from behind a wall as though they are moving on a conveyor belt in a factory. In one scene, Duff even yells furiously at her cast members who portray wide-eyed, unresponsive dolls. Meanwhile, the audience laughs furiously at Balkan as a doll who falls over and tries moving every way she can think of before she finally makes it back on her two feet.
Lindsay Anne Black’s simple set decorated with cartoonish Christmas trees, gives the actors lots of room to move. The intense choreography and blocking moves the actors to the swaying and stomping of Paul Humphrey’s holiday score.
Among the best moments of the show is the finale that Theatre Rusticle calls “Nutcracker/Slipper Dance.” With the husband’s dainty slippers in their hands, the actors stomp on all fours along with the beat of the music until they stand before the audience — out of breath. They end the play as it began with the actors saying the familiar lines directly to the audience.
The holiday music that opened the show follows the audience to the end, but it’s the brilliant concept by McMackson and outstanding acting that carries the audience’s attention for ninety minutes. The Stronger Variations isn’t a traditional holiday show, but it’s a brilliant alternative.
The Stronger Variations runs until December 7th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit http://buddiesinbadtimes.com.
photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh