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February 26, 2009

REVIEW: STC'S "Dog in the Manger"

Roy Meachum

From the start, Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company production of Lope de Vega's "Dog in the Manger' grabbed my attention in a way no other play has, not recently.


Director Jonathon Munby is entitled to credit; he would have taken all the pies-in-the-face and raspberries had the production slouched poorly along.


Alexander Dodge created a marvelous set filled with Mediterranean style ornate boxes that turn into doors and upper strolling walkways. Mr. Dodge set me up and Julie Craig delivered my bearded head on a platter: her gorgeous voice wended through the show, weaving mystically around scenes; appearing now and then. Always welcome.


From the moment Michelle Hurd takes her first step out of Mr. Dodge's scenery, her Egyptian princess' manner and features own the audience, artfully yielding now and then for her fellow players. But when she's on, she owns the stage. Her majestic face, carriage and voice never falter. She is altogether a consummate countess and one helluva an actress!


Michael Hayden is much more than the noble lady's love interest; he builds his part with such strength and compassion. We can easily believe this is the man that binds together each element of the story, including a dalliance with serving maid Miriam Silverman. She renders a thoroughly enchanting presence to Senor de Vega's work. Her very movements bring joy to the evening.


Please indulge me a moment while I try to raise a roar for David Turner; he richly deserves stiff plaudits to match the audience's tidal waves of smiles and hearty chuckling. The role would normally belong to a jester, but apparently he's employed as a go-between and other sundry jobs; he even passes himself as a lousy assassin. Everything about him generates laughter.


Speaking of that merry mood, David Sabin returns for what the program salutes as his 50th STC production. His characters have very much contributed to the company's resounding success. He makes every casting director, fortunate enough to pick him, look a veritable genius. Mr. Sabin is that good.


Midway in the evening I wanted to stand up and applaud the company's artistic director Michael Kahn for creating great classical magic for local audiences. Several years back I could never imagine I would express those critic's sentiments about his work.


Our professional relationship started at Ford's Theatre. He and John Houseman served as co-directors for Julliard's acting ensemble; I was a reviewer on television. They put on three plays, as I recall, and I found each not up to theatrical snuff. Not even close. In the brief TV criticisms, I said some terrible things. Michael Kahn went on to perpetrate the Shakespeare Theatre Company's accomplishments, working frequently with out-of-town directors, like Jonathan Munby.


Is the show worth your time and money? Only if you happen to love splendid writing, including many sight gags, and otherworldly scenery and costumes, and actors who know exactly what they're about and do so with a minimum of distractions. If you simply don't like theatre, stay away.


"Dog in the Manger," written by Lope de Vega, the playwright many call Spain's Shakespeare, will hold on much of March, blowing away with the winds of the month's last Sunday. Pity!


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