Aria da Capo,Trap Door Theatre. Edna St. Vincent Millay's 1919 poetic farce contrasts the world of two clowns with that of two tragic actors playing out the story of greedy shepherds. But all four actors, as well as the audience, are at the mercy of the omniscient, omnipotent ruler Cothurnus. Director and designer Sean Marlow uses music and costumes that maintain Millay's theatrical intent yet gives the play--with its themes of human competition, shallowness, and inattention--a contemporary edge.
Earlier this year National Pastime Theater used Aria da Capo to teach kids about different theater styles, maintaining the play's sense of wonder but watering down its darker, richer side. Trap Door achieves almost the opposite effect: Marlow downplays the clowns' silliness, allowing Millay's words to sink in, but omits some of the fun. If we're caught up in Pierrot and Columbine's antics, the effect is stronger and more disturbing when Cothurnus sweeps them off the stage. Where National Pastime lost the essence of the tragic tale, however, by trying to showcase Greek and Elizabethan acting styles, Trap Door allows us to see the vulnerability of Thyrsis and Corydon, actors pulled out of the dressing room by the intimidating Cothurnus and forced to play the tragedy.
Though their intuition is to resolve their fatal disagreement, sadly Thyrsis and Corydon don't challenge Cothurnus' rule. When the clowns return, Marlow costumes them in current if exaggerated office wear and pig faces, and he creates a haunting final image as Pierrot and Columbine lug the corpses under the dining table and simply forget them. Millay's vision of humanity at the dawn of this century here reflects our baser qualities as we enter the 21st.
--Gabrielle S. Kaplan