Written in the early 17th century by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl is a Jacobean comedy about a virago named Moll. little independent theatre founder Julya M. Mirro’s adaptation brings the play from London, circa 1610, to Chicago, circa 1946. Think Harry Truman, Nuremberg Trials, and penicillin.
The plot is complex, and I loathe synopses; but in short: Moll has a reputation as a gender-bending ball-buster. The plot focuses on the bizarre antics of the community around her and their various sexcapades and daily foibles. This is a sister show of the Women’s Theatre Festival, currently running throughout the Triangle.
The authors of the play were contemporaries of William Shakespeare. This piece is rarely produced, as it is a non-Shakespearean Renaissance work. The Bard, quite unfairly, steals all of the thunder from the other strong writers of the period. But this play is full of life, love, and farce; it deserves to be seen.
Director Julya Mirro’s finest contribution, aside from choosing such a strong text, is in the cast she chose. This “bawdy romp” boasts an impressive ensemble of 11 strong performers. Nine of the cast each portray two characters: one male and one female. The two remaining actors each take on a character who rests quite comfortably between the gender binary — a binary which, in this universe, is suggested by pink props and accessories for masculine characters and blue ones for feminine characters. This helps the audience (sometimes) to distinguish between which of the two roles and actor is portraying at a given time.
Though the cast are enormously talented and have obviously dedicated tremendous time, energy, and craft to developing their characters, the plot is so complex, and the interweaving of characters so jumbled, that following the plot could prove challenging for those unfamiliar with the piece. Some actors are more able than others to switch back and forth between characters seamlessly but clearly.
Several show particular skill in the distinct physical, emotional, and vocal embodiment of their characters. Noelle Barnard Azarelo is sassy and confident as the young Sebastian, and embodies his youthful energy with ease. She turns on a dime to show us Prudence’s melodramatic flare with equal precision.
Laura Parker’s physicality and vocal choices are very funny and perfect for her two distinct characters: Mr. Gallipot and Rosie the Riveter (whose lines can be difficult to understand at times, due to Parker’s spot-on 1940s Chicago accent). Sean Malone practically runs away with this show in his handbag. His sultry but wicked Lady Dapper is one of the show’s most developed characters and he vanishes easily into the character. This is made more impressive in comparison to his lumbering, witless Openwork the tailor.
Malone’s total embodiment of these two characters is one of the show’s true strengths. Alongside him is Lia Fitzgerald, who — interestingly enough — plays the spouses of both of Malone’s characters, giving them both some wonderful material with which to play. Fitzgerald’s Sir Dapper is bombastic and distinctly masculine, while her Rosamond is fiery and sexy, complete with Irish sass.
Denver Skye Vaughn continues to do strong work embodying male characters, as she did earlier this season in Tiny Engine Theatre’s Cloud 9. Her lusty and manic Trapdoor contrasts nicely with her lovelorn Mary. A greater contrast in costuming would have helped further the distinction.
Michael Parker’s Sir Alexander, complete with kilt and high heels, is haughty and commands attention. The character is well-formed, though Parker occasionally speaks too quickly for us to catch all of his words. His simple and sincere Tiltyard is an expertly developed young lady.
John Paul Middlesworth, who takes on more than the requisite two characters, fearlessly presents the lascivious Laxton and an assortment of other treasures, including a pair of characters that he plays simultaneously. Nicola Lefler gives the show its very first laughs with her sneaky Lady Fitzallard and the dry Neatfoot.
Further distinction in costuming could have helped flesh out which character we were dealing with in certain moments. However, Nicola Lefler does tremendous work in making them both distinct individuals. Tiffany Clark brings a bright energy and gumption with both Gull and Goshawk.
Nick Popio’s Jack Dapper (the effeminate male counterpart to Moll’s masculine female) is a dandy of Oscar Wilde-like proportions. He is at once endearing and vicious. His development is one of the authors’ and the production’s strengths.
Last, but certainly not least, Livian Kennedy’s Moll comes crashing into the story like the Incredible Hulk through a brick wall. She is at first mostly silent and observant. As the play progresses, she takes the characters and the plot into her hand and begins to manipulate the goings-on with the intensity and fearlessness of Pippin’s Leading Player or Cabaret’s Emcee. She is at once part of the show, part of the audience, and the puppetmaster. She is artist and art critic. Kennedy has developed a character so charismatic that one can’t help but fall in love with her (though that’s the last thing Moll could possibly want).
This is an actor’s show. But what if the cast is too good for the production? The best thing you can do is not get in their way. Some solid support is provided by Hunter Stansell’s appropriate and precise costumes, though some clarity between a single actor’s characters could be beneficial in many cases.
The lighting of the show is at times sharp and helps to tell the story and set mood. At other times, it seems distracting and showy. The same can be said for the set itself. In-the-round is an okay choice for this piece. There is an obvious desire to involve the audience as much as possible. But the playing space is simply too busy with visual stimuli.
The addition of a turntable was unnecessary. It was used effectively in several key moments, but more often than not felt forced into the situation against its will. Artwork completed by the cast gave a definite feeling of personality to the playing space and was a welcomed element. However, the many human-sized figures designed on the back wall, with bold words characteristic of the show’s themes served only to distract from the amazing performances.
The flaw here is that the production gets in its own way too often. The busy design, the bizarre and often unnecessary transitions between scenes, and an overwhelming number of preshow gimmicks are giving this show its own identity crisis.
The text is strong and the actors sublime. I wish the marriage of those two things had been the focus of the production, since that it where its heart truly is. There is also a strong lack of subtlety in message. A modern theatergoing audience is perceptive enough to glean these themes on their own, without didactic sequences — certainly without an added spoken reference to North Carolina’s former stance on same-sex marriage. I was immediately jettisoned out of the story and into the parking lot. Finally, with a running time of more than two hours, an intermission may have helped to ease the brain as well as the bladder.
Strong performances and a strikingly relevant text make little independent theatre’s The Roaring Girl good, fun theater. An overwhelming number of unnecessary elements keeps it from being great theater.
This production is in Rated R territory for its strong sexual content.
SECOND OPINION: July 27th Hillsborough, NC WHUP “Lights Up ” interview with director Julya M. Mirro and others: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-72716-permanent-archive/.
The little independent theatre presents THE ROARING GIRL at 8 p.m. Aug. 11 and 12, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 13, and 8 p.m. Aug. 18-20 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, and WTF participants).
BOX OFFICE: http://theroaringgirl.brownpapertickets.com/.
INFORMATION: 859-935-0553 or INFO@ARClitE.org.
The Roaring Girl (c. 1607–10 comedy): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Roaring_Girl (Wikipedia).
Thomas Middleton (English Jacobean playwright and poet, 1580-1627): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Middleton (Wikipedia).
Thomas Dekker (English Jacobean playwright and poet, c. 1572-1632): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Dekker_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).
Julya M. Mirro (Garner, NC director and ARClitE founder): https://www.facebook.com/julya.mirro (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.