When Mark Cantan wrote Jezebel, his intention was to “show how complications lead to comedy.” So I was slightly surprised when I entered the Dramabarn on Friday night by the deceptively simple mise-en-scene. To the left, three characters lounging and chatting on a battered sofa. To the right, a table with two chairs. On the back wall; a mural of retro triangles, the only hint towards the quadratic quips and quirky characters which Wikipedia had promised me from this heartwarming play.
I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Standing on opposite sides of the stage, Britt Borkan and Sam Zac, who portrayed the twenty-first century couple Robin and Alan, faced the audience and drew us immediately in to the inevitable humour of first dates and frustrated love. Their dialogue overlapping, their excuses and actions mirroring each other, a clever use of spotlighting linking them together as “star-crossed lovers,” we were struck from the start by a desire for them to get together and live “happily ever after.”
And so it is, for a while at least. Indeed, the real potential in Cantan’s piece in my opinion comes from the fact that both the initial “boy meets girl” scenes, and the farce into which it descends, whilst in many ways offer different types of comedy, present a variety and charm which keeps the audience hooked from start to finish. Borkan and Zac maintain a constant awareness of this throughout, and are especially to be applauded for the ways in which they manage to capture both the irresistible awkwardness of blossoming love (their first date was one of my favourite scenes in the whole play) and the rueful revival of the relationship as things become long-term. Indeed, Zac especially portrayed a growth and development of character, the shy slump of his shoulders and rapid speech which dominates his behaviour early in the play giving way to the efficient family man that he becomes. The stage setting, which appeared initially simplistic, was used to great effect throughout, the sofa and bed functioning as various forms of public transport, hospital beds, and even a cinema. This diverse use of few resources allowed the actors to create a believable atmosphere for the stage of the couple’s life.
The jaunty humour of the piece is conveyed particularly well through its eponymous heroine, Jezebel, played here by Anna Mawn, the ditzy twenty-something who ends up having a threesome with the couple, resulting in disastrous consequences. Mawn’s hair is endearingly tousled, her neck weighted down with a multitude of ethnic necklaces, and her dress spattered with sunflowers. It’s a costume which perfectly portrays the innocent, misguided yet endearing character that Mawn brings to life with a wonderful charm. This was a particularly challenging role in parts, as unlike the couple, Mawn was frequently left without another actor to bounce off, but she took this to her advantage by constantly drawing in the audience, as if speaking to a confidante. Due to the confined nature of the play- Jezebel and the couple constituting the only characters represented on stage- there was a real danger of the characters either becoming boring or melding into one another, but this certainly was not the case.
Just as Jezebel during the most climactic scene of the play wavers between which character she loves the most, I left the Dramabarn uncertain about which particular performance I would class as the best. Ultimately though, it didn’t really matter. Flowing out of the door, followed by the laughter and chatter of the rest of the audience, I was filled with a sense that the ultimate reconciliation of the characters at the end of the play was the best ending that could have been devised. The Dramabarn’s presentation of Jezebel was both complicated and comedic, but it left with me a simple joy which comes with a good play even better performed.
Photo Credit: EJS Photography