Hamlyn – The Pied Viper
A REVIEW BY RIVER STYX
Fells Point Corner Theatre has lofty ambitions with its production of Hamlyn, which don’t quite get fulfilled. It’s a show that drags you down a little, but never takes you anywhere interesting. I’m all for catharsis, sucker-punch heartbreak, and profound realizations. Drah-ma. Love it.
Hamlyn is about a pedophile and child abuse, so I was really hoping it would be like a live-action episode of “Law and Order: SVU.” There’s a well-meaning policey-judge character (“Monterro,” played by Sammie Real) who wants to put the slimey Pee Wee Herman cum Neverland Michael Jackson-esque pedophile (“Rivas,” played by Jim Knost) behind bars. There’s an 18-year-old scorned lover of Rivas (“Gonzalo,” played by the captivating Tavon Vinson). A child psychologist who wears fishnet stockings. There’s sexy knee fondling between adults. And a sad kid who adults try to talk to, but none has the magic touch of Elliot or Olivia. The latter is a major theme of the play: adults don’t know how to talk to or understand kids.
Hamlyn, a Spanish play written by Juan Antonio Mayorga and first produced in 2005, won a bunch of awards and was popular overseas. It is a thought-provoking piece with a lot of room for impact with the right production touches – that seductive live-action “SVU” draw, complete with plot twists. But, uneven performances throw away the impact of the twists, and the adult-child disparity theme, as well as directionless attempts to connect the story to a folk legend never let FPCT’s production reach that really good theater point.
The play is loosely inspired by the Robert Browning poem “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Piped piper uses magical flute to rid city of rats. Yay! Everyone is happy, except the piper, because the adults don’t pay him. Piper flips his shit and rids city of children, too. Harsh reaction. No one is happy. And no one is happy in Hamlyn, either. The mild depressive state of FPCT’s production begins with flute music by flautist Klodina Kabashi Morina, who sporadically pops up throughout the play whenever the pied piper is mentioned. Monterro’s talking about rats again? Cue the flute.
The two worlds of all-knowing children and oblivious, delusional adults are clearly defined in the play, whose actors playing children give some of the more interesting performances in FPCT’s production. A bearded, soft-bodied Michael Bryne Zemarel plays 10-year-old Josemarie, the child whose parents take money from a wealthy creeper (aforementioned Pee Wee Herman on Lithium Rivas) knowing that the creeper is sexually abusing their son. The playwright makes a very cool choice by writing in his script that the kid is played by an adult because real-life children are too hard to work with – this message is conveyed by the excellent Helenmary Ball, who plays the commentator. More on her in a bit. Zemarel’s hopeless and experienced-beyond-his-years Josemarie elicited the most emotional response from me and my date, The Bad Oracle. I felt for him, even though he’s a 30ish dude playing an abused child.
The other “children” in the play – Gonzalo and Girl (Kale Jones) – are so damn compelling. They both wear hopeless and deep knowingness well. Vinson’s Gonzalo has so much attitude in his eye rolls and man-spreading. He is like the perpetually pissed gay-dive-bar bartender who sees a lot of shit, but is resigned that he can’t do anything about it except pour another Franzia zinfandel for customers who don’t tip. Jones’ faraway looks are gorgeous. She smokes her cigarette in the corner of the stage like a living statue that you swear can see into your soul and thinks you’re a shitty person. The expressions and body language of these three “children” were mesmerizing.
As was Helenmary Ball, the ubiquitous commentator of Hamlyn. Ball, with her glorious white hair and effective emoting, is a welcome presence in every scene of the play. She is the only adult who reacts with compassion to the horrible situation. Although she does not interact with any of the other characters and is often in the background, she never stops fully being within the scene and is often the most compelling person on stage when the “adults” of Hamlyn are the focus of a scene.
I wasn’t crazy about any of the “adult” actors’ performances, which were a grab bag of rushing through lines, listless delivery of lines, off-putting yelling of lines, giggling when lines were fucked up, weird sexy time while talking about rats, a lot of clogs (this last costume point just kind of annoyed me, as did all the pashmina scarves).
Director Barry Feinstein and lighting designer David Charlton make some really nice tableaus and stage pictures. In one, a flashlight breaks through dim lighting, creating eerie shadows that effectively deepen the weight of the scene. I also loved the blank photos and slides, which were in place of what was referred to as child pornography. FPCT smartly provides literature in its lobby from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Hamlyn is a thought-provoking play that lends opportunities for stellar performances, but FPCT’s cast doesn’t quite mesh with one another, even though there are some bright lights. I kind of want Helenmary Ball to run commentary on my life. Props to FPCT simply for choosing to put on Hamlyn. The theater continues to present interesting works for its audiences, even if this particular production doesn’t quite soar.
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