Chapel Hill, NC-based Deep Dish Theater Company is concluding its 11th season this spring with a delightfully dark early science-fiction comedy by prolific English dramatist and stage director Sir Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests trilogy, Bedroom Farce). Henceforward…(1987) is set in a besieged apartment block on the outskirts London in a decidedly dystopian near-future time when gangs of marauding teenaged skinheads terrorize the suburbs of the British capital.
When the curtain rises, a struggling composer named Jerome (played by Mark Filiaci) is the increasingly desperate victim of an epic case writer’s block. Enamored with the musical possibilities of the human voice, Jerome secretly records his conversations and translates the vocal pitch and rhythms of speech in selected segments into electronic music.
But Jerome’s well of inspiration ran dry four years ago when his fed-up wife and muse Corinna (Leanne Norton Heintz) and precious nine-year-old daughter Geain (pronounced “Jane” and played on video by Madeline McKinney) walked out of his increasingly reclusive life. Since then, Jerome hasn’t written a note. But he has big plans to change all that.
Jerome is suing for joint custody of Geain, now age 13 (played by Alex Anna) and a temperamental teenager with a capital T; and he has acquired an amazingly lifelike fembot nanny, the NAN 300F (also played by Heintz), to look after Geain while he’s working on his musical compositions. But the best laid plans ….
When the design flaws of the NAN 300F prove impossible to overcome– not to mention highly dangerous to children and adults alike — Jerome hires an actress working as an escort named Zoë Mill (Katja Hill) to pretend to be his live-in girlfriend — and Geain’s caretaker when Jerome is otherwise occupied. All Zoë and Jerome have to do is convince Corinna to go along with this arrangement and persuade a persnickety Department of Child Wellbeing officer named Mervyn Bickerdyke (Jon Karnofsky) that together Jerome and Zoë can provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child.
Mervyn proves to be harder to convince than the surprisingly agreeable Corinna, especially when their formal visit to Jerome’s besieged suburban flat makes them a big fat target of the ultra-violent Daughters of Darkness girl gang, led by the pugnacious Rita (a feisty Ros Schwartz, looking like a distaff version of the goons in A Clockwork Orange).
Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick pokes just the right amount of fun at the personal peccadilloes of the characters and the shortcomings of the dystopian future depicted in Henceforward…, and he gets crisp comic characterizations from his first-rate cast. Scenic designer Eric Davis makes Jerome’s shabby steel-shuttered flat both a sanctuary and a prison cell; costume designer LeGrande Smith creates a chic futuristic ensemble for the stylish Corinna, work togs for Jerome and Mervyn, and punkish attire for 13-year-old Geain and Rita; and video designer Jonathan Young’s videophone and security-camera segments add authenticity to this futuristic comedy.
Mark Filiaci is, perhaps, a bit too morose as Jerome, who wears the perpetually pained expression of a man whose bowels are always in knots; but Leanne Norton Heintz is delightful in the dual role of the herky-jerky malfunctioning NAN 300F and the ultra-sleek Corinna, and Katja Hill has some fun with the actress-turned-escort Zoë’s nervous tics and twitches.
Jon Karnofsky is a splendid fusspot as Mervyn, and Gregor McElvogue — seen only on videophone calls — is a big hot lovable mess as Jerome’s perpetually drunken friend Lupus, whose calls Jerome skillfully dodges and whose mate Jerome may have seduced.
Although Henceforward… is not one of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s comic masterpieces, it does have its pleasures, and some surprising plot twists that make it an enjoyable investment of a couple of hours time.
SECOND OPINION: May 2nd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/wired-help-in-deep-dishs-henceforward/Content?oid=3059836; May 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/05/01/2034362/despite-uneven-script-henceforward.html; and April 30th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-Looking-Back-or-Looking-Forward-HENCEFORWARD-at-Deep-Dish-Theater-20120430; . (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the April 27th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/04/sir-alan-ayckbourns-1987-comedy-henceforward-is-a-wickedly-funny-look-at-love-art-and-robots/.)
Deep Dish Theater Company presents HENCEFORWARD… at 7:30 p.m. May 10-12, 2 p.m. May 13, and 7:30 p.m. May 16-19 in its performance space between The Print Shop and the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Dr. and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.
TICKETS: $19 Wednesday and Thursday and $21 Friday-Saturday ($14 students and $17 seniors on Wednesday and Thursday and $19 seniors on Friday-Saturday).
BOX OFFICE: 919-968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NEWS RELEASE: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/news?n=93.
NOTE 1: There will be a post-performance discussion on Thursday, May 10th (“Meet the Designers”).
NOTE 2: The Deep Dish Book Selection is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 14th, at Flyleaf Books (http://www.flyleafbooks.com/), 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. (For details about this novel, click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker’s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy.)
The Play: http://henceforward.alanayckbourn.net/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henceforward… (Wikipedia).
The Playwright: http://www.alanayckbourn.net/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Ayckbourn (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.