Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Dresser

My review of the play, The Dresser, appears in this week's WE.

The Dresser
By Andrea Warner

The Dresser, the finely crafted 1980 play by Ronald Harwood, has a lengthy history of granting good performers an award-winning tours de force, both on stage and on the silver screen. At its centre is an aging, egomaniacal actor facing his mortality, and the servile, fey dresser who has taken care of him for the last 16 years, all as the London blitz wails in the background. The Dresser is every actor’s dream: an opportunity for the aging lion to roar one last time, and for the young cub to prove his worth and hold his own.

Unfortunately, little of the play’s greatness is evident in the production currently on at Presentation House, and it’s hard to know where the blame should fall.

Dave McIntosh plays Sir — the aforementioned actor and head of a touring Shakespeare company — with almost comic exaggeration, chewing on scenery like a puppy getting its adult teeth. The character should alternate between breaking our hearts and frustrating us with his selfishness. Instead, he’s just exhausting as he launches in for the umpteenth time (between scenes of King Lear, the play he is performing that evening) about his impending descent into death. McIntosh’s performance is one-note and oddly flat, even when he’s clenching his hands and raging with fury.

As Norman, Sir’s dresser, Michael Morabito does a convincing job of smoothing out Sir’s wrinkles (professional and personal) with aplomb. But he also lets the nuances of the script slip by, tossing off some brilliantly funny asides too quickly. Norman’s alcoholism and slipping grip on reality are communicated via increasingly frequent nips from a flask, rather than any real emotional or physical transformation.

The play picks up a bit of steam in the second act, but never recovers from its shaky start. A surer hand from director Jennifer Morabito, and more time spent interpreting the explosive script, would have kept The Dresser from succumbing to its show-within-a-show irony and mirroring Sir’s painfully slow (but ultimately welcome) end.

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