Review by Danny Gaisin
This season has seen Dundas Little Theatre offer two-fer presentations based on a common theme. Both Hall & Middlemass’ THE VALIANT and John Mortimer’s THE DOCK BRIEF deal with capital convictions, albeit from both thespian-designed interpretive masks. The former takes its name from a familiar line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act II, scene 2; the latter – a formal term from British jurisprudence. Crime & punishment proves fertile soil & subject for theatre.
Director Brenda Ewing stages ‘The Valiant’ by carefully avoiding any denouement telegraphy.
The four major characters fully portray their personas, with emphasis on differentiating the diverse attitudes about the upcoming legal execution. The warden is ambiguous about his responsibility and personal attitude toward capital punishment. Les Blackmore’s portrayal owns this gem from opening scene to curtain. He projects anger, disillusion and strength of character so realistically as to be actually undergoing the dichotomy of personal confusions. The attending minister is Luis Arrojo and he is a perfect foil for Blackmore. I kept envisioning this duo as a ‘Mr. Interlocutor & Mr. Bones’ team, albeit in a strictly serious milieu.
The condemned convict is underplayed by Robert K. Brown. Facing the noose, he is calm; philosophical, and determined to hide his real identity until the end. Blackmore & Arrojo collude on a scenario to finally peel back Brown’s disguise, but the young man is steadfast and unequivocating. Director Ewing has him speak in an almost un-emphasized monotone. The result is effective but decreases his projection so much of his colloquy is missed. The insertion of a perhaps sister (Nia Langdon) should heighten the drama; unfortunately there is little chemistry subtle or otherwise, between the two. Her departure initiates the ‘last mile’ and a revealing conclusion.
Mortimer’s ‘DOCK BRIEF’ is a far more familiar one act play. The plot deals with a lower class Brit facing a capital crime, who is to be defended by a definitely lower class solicitor appointed by the court. The directorial focus is on the purely comedic aspect and Crystal Haygarth milks her charges with almost juvenile inanity. Barrister Julian Ford sees the trial as a ‘Hail Mary’ personal redemptive opportunity and is seemingly indifferent to the perils facing his client. Haygarth has him pensively evaluate his’ brief’ utilizing almost audience asides that illustrate his misdirected motivation. Kept seeing him as any of those ‘ambulance-chasers’ advertising on local TV.
The defendant is Tim Hevesi whose ‘Fowle’ is a definitive scene-stealer. Hevesi has a mobile face that coupled with changes in posture, stance, and patois permit him to portray all of the different individuals in a British court. There is a scene Act II of ‘The Producers” where Bialystock succinctly recaps all the misadventures that brought him to incarceration. Hevesi could do as good a job as Nathan Lane’s Tony Award®-winning portrayal. To retell the plot’s progress would be an unfair spoiler, but even if one is familiar with Dock Brief, this DLT presentation with still provoke much laughter, due to the duo’s talents and the necessitated directorial skill.
‘The VALIANT’ and ‘The DOCK BRIEF’ are at the Dundas Theatre 37 Market St. until May 10th.