A Second Look At APT's "The Recruiting Officer"
Restaurant reviewers typically visit a new eatery three times, or more, before submitting a review. They come at different times of day, they sample a full range of dishes, they suss out the rhythm and the vibe of the place when it's busy and when it's slow. They don't assess the service until they've been waited on by several different servers. That's because first impressions can be misleading and it's much more accurate to give a well rounded report. This helps the restaurant and its potential diners. It's more comprehensive and much more fair this way.
Theater reviewers are not afforded this luxury. Sometimes we've read the play before we take our seats, sometimes not. Sometimes we've seen it before, sometimes it's brand new. And for better or for worse, within 24 hours of the final bows on opening night, we typically file our reviews.
Because of my schedule, I rarely go back to see the same production twice. The first time it happened, I finagled another ticket to see Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice at American Players Theatre. The entire production took my breath away, and I longed to go back — strictly as an observer — to let the bizarre and beautiful show wash over me. The second time this occurred, was last week, when I had the opportunity for a second look at APT’s The Recruiting Officer, as an attendee and coordinator of the American Theatre Critics Association annual meeting in Spring Green.
Both nights were uncomfortably hot and humid. Both nights the mosquitoes were out with a vengeance. But the second time through, I noticed a lot of small things — in both the script and the production — that I admired. Two weeks after the show’s opening night, the cast was sharper, the show was tighter, and the director’s intentions were clearer. So here are some notes I’d like to add, as an addendum to my earlier review.
The music in the show is rustic to a fault, and frequently out of tune. That’s on purpose, and it speaks volumes. When the new batch of naïve locals are rounded up and taught to sing and drum along with a song, celebrating their new places in the English army, they don’t sound so good. Their voices are rough, their diction is sloppy and their drum sounds like it’s seen better days. This isn’t because the actors aren’t musically inclined. It’s because these patriotic airs have to hit a sour note — all the young men have been tricked into giving away their lives.
It’s possible to give the charming Captain Plume (Nate Burger) the benefit of the doubt — if that’s the message you’re desperate to hear, as Silvia is (Kelsey Brennan). It’s all a matter of semantics. It also depends on whether to take the charismatic captain at his word, or choose to believe the women he’s bedded. It doesn’t excuse all the hit and run sex he engages in, but it makes Silvia’s arc more understandable. And hey, for her sake, let’s hope he really does reform at the end of the play.
In talking with director Bill Brown about the odd costume pieces from modern day that are sprinkled through the show, he offered this interesting explanation: “People want to see themselves onstage. And that means that if you’re doing a play that’s several centuries old, you need to provide them with a way in.” So, the Converse sneakers, the Crocs, the coffee stand that looks vaguely like Starbucks, and a woman singing the refrain from the Shirelles’ 1962 hit “Soldier Boy,” after a tryst. I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Brown, but I understand his choices to bring the audience to the material.
There’s a strange equivalence between marriage and conscription throughout the play. Soldiers can trick others into either contract merely by bending the rules and mumbling the specifics. There seems to be a lot of gray area and misunderstanding among the locals about the rules of both binding agreements. And beware; one can’t save you from the other.
Andrea San Miguel, who plays the extravagant and perhaps haughty Melinda, is a really gifted comic actor. She adds a gleeful little “whee!” as she’s lifted in the air by a suitor and adorably whines “Lucy!” to her maid, with the puckered face of someone who has just bitten into a lemon. Navigating the stage in some of the most elaborate costumes, wigs, and hats of the season, she manages to wield her fan as a weapon. She summons all this silliness, but is still able to present her character’s perfectly reasonable case; Melinda won’t be treated as a man’s mistress. She will love him as a wife, or not at all.
I believe I might have mentioned this previously. . .but Marcus Truschinski’s full throated, over-the-top, no holds barred performance as Brazen is well worth the price of admission. And kudos to Brown for his enormous entrance — yelling like a madman through the field behind the theater, sword raised and in full charge. Truschinski’s kissing, dueling, blustering, scheming and bumbling throughout the play will live in my memory for many summers to come.