'Vertical Hour': Themes timely, timeless in regional premiere at Pioneer Memorial Theatre

Director Charles Morey didn't get a chance to see "The Vertical Hour" when it played on Broadway last winter. Still, it was written by the well-known British playwright David Hare, and Morey figured it would have something important to say. So when Morey got a chance to read it, he did.

Morey immediately decided "The Vertical Hour" would be a good fit for Pioneer Theatre Company. And he thought they'd better do it quickly — because it's about the war in Iraq, and Morey didn't know if it would feel fresh for long.

The more he worked with the script, however, the more he found Hare's themes to be timeless. "What it is really about is how we define ourselves — as individuals and in relation to those we love," he says.

The action centers around a woman named Nadia Blye, a war correspondent turned college professor. Nadia goes with her boyfriend, Philip Lucas, to visit his father, Oliver, who is a physician living in the countryside on the Welsh/English border.

Almost at once, Nadia and Oliver begin to spar about American and British involvement in Iraq.

Oliver is a dove. But Nadia is not a hawk, exactly. Rather, she believes in being responsible. She was a journalist in the former Yugoslavia, and she saw lives saved by American intervention.

Nadia and Oliver do have one thing in common. Both understand the term "vertical hour," a reference to the brief period in which a medic can make a difference for a wounded soldier.

As for Philip, he is anxious. He believes his father has the ability to ruin his relationship with Nadia.

Julianne Moore played Nadia in the Broadway production, and Moore got mixed reviews. Some critics and bloggers found her performance too mild-mannered. If the plot is seen as a contest between America and Britain — and many in the audience did see it that way — then the British won on Broadway. By most accounts, the actor who played Oliver, Bill Nighy, turned in the strongest performance.

Meanwhile, in the regional premiere at Pioneer Theatre, Morey is casting Caris Vujcec in the role of Nadia. Vujcec brings strength to the part, Morey says. "She has the ability to express what are essentially intellectual arguments with deep passion. And always with real vulnerability. You feel for her."

Dennis Parlato will play Oliver, and Anthony Hagopian will play Philip. The cast is rounded out by a couple of Nadia's students. In the first scene, Will Rogers plays one of her male students, Dennis Dutton. In the final scene, Anita Holland plays one of her female students, Terri Scholes.

Morey explains the reason for these two scenes, the bookends to the main part of the action. In the first scene, he says, a young man challenges his teacher with his newly acquired knowledge of Sigmund Freud. "Freud says we are all somebody else. Underneath," the lad says.

In the final scene, Morey explains, Nadia challenges a female student. Terri, the student, may remind Nadia of herself, Morey says. If so, the young woman is a Nadia of more innocent times. Before she went to visit her boyfriend's father.

If you go . . .

What: "The Vertical Hour," a play by David Hare

Where: Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East

When: Friday through Jan. 26; times vary

How much: $21-$39

Phone: 581-6961

Web: www.pioneertheatre.org

E-mail: susan@desnews.com