“What’s the good?” asks Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard in his play, Darkside, inspired by the rock group Pink Floyd, who in turn may well have been offering the same huge question in their album The Dark Side of the Moon. In America, the idiom is more often “What’s the use?” Burning Coal Theatre Company artistic director Jerome Davis has chosen a frighteningly appropriate time to introduce such a crushing question.
In this hour-long play, Stoppard poses, strains at quasi-philosophical avenues, and satirizes the immense unanswerable questions of humanity, existence, morality, and belief. If he is actually saying anything, it might be what a beautiful animal we are that we can be entertained into laughter at the thought of probable utter destruction and the apparent vileness of an unfair universe. Stoppard pursues the plot in his usual pun-atious manner, adding paradox, oxymorons, spiraling thought experiments, and deep unresolvable conundra.
Icelandic director Pálína Jónsdóttir brings a “growing reputation,” Davis tells us, and it is easy to believe with this return work at Burning Coal. Her actors are precise, alert, alive, and energetic.
Emily McCoy, the seeker of the meaning of good, is well defined by Davitta Singletary. She wins us over from outset with her wide, questioning eyes, and then warms us with a vulnerability and sweetness that just makes us want to protect her from the real mean old world. This actress was cast perfectly for this part.
Cody Hill plays The Boy, Emily’s companion on the quest, with a flair for gymnastics and nonstop energy, and innocence that matches Singletary’s. Their traipse through the minefields of Nietzschean philosophy is made delightful by their obvious chemistry and childlike demeanors.
Mr. Baggot and Ethics Man are brought to us by Brian Linden, whose lanky frame lends an air of pompous erudition to the roles. His ability to roll the names of various philosophical branches and describe them meaningfully was charming and pontifical.
Fat Man, in a costume that assures his character’s identity, is played by Juan Isler, whose background includes Porgy and Bess. He creates a waddle that is almost too real, and sometimes makes one think he might suddenly roll forward and bounce around.
Dr. Antrobus and The Witch Finder are played by Marc Geller. Geller’s piercing eyes and taut demeanor make him a fierce, authoritarian presence, and serve the two characters very well.
Vincent Bland, Jr. is stunning in his long blond wig as The Guru, and delivers his pronouncements as if from on high.
Fred Corlett as the Banker and Mac McCord as the Politician are wonderful together, trading quips and dancing together in an almost sexual way. They are definitely comic relief from the underlying tensions of the whole world.
The technical design team works wonders. Margaux Maeght designed the set, consisting of sound wall, with multiple opening places to bring characters in and out. Projected against that wall and the ceiling are abstract and identifiable images which coincided with the Pink Floyd album music.
This is thought-provoking entertainment, as Tom Stoppard most often is, combined with his delightful and sometimes obscure word games. Darkside is a fully grown-up, mind-involving experience. As Pink Floyd says, “All you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be.” Go see this play for yourself.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8666; Oct. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/darkside/Event?oid=8540224; and Sept. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 17th Triangle Review review by Dustin K. Britt, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/10/burning-coal-stages-tom-stoppard-pink-floyds-challenging-stimulating-darkside/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents DARKSIDE at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19-21, 2 p.m. Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-28, and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursday performances, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/darkside/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/152992585287189/.
PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
Darkside (2013 radio drama): http://pinkfloyddarkside.com/ (official website) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darkside_(radio_play) (Wikipedia).
Tom Stoppard (Zlín, Czechoslovakia-born British playwright and screenwriter): https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/tom-stoppard (British Council | Literature bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tom-stoppard-8912 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001779/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Stoppard (Wikipedia).
Pink Floyd (English progressive and psychedelic rock group): http://www.pinkfloyd.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0969139/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/pinkfloyd/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/pinkfloyd (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Floyd (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/pinkfloyd (YouTube).
Pálína Jónsdóttir (Icelandic director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0433593/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://www.facebook.com/palina.jonsdottir (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.