The first offering of the Old Lyric Repertory Company, "The Dresser," relies not on a cast of thousands or over-the-top slapstick moments, but rather the emotions and efforts of two characters.
Oh, there are more than two characters in the Ronald Harwood play, penned in 1980. But for all intents and purposes, the production is carried by the character known as Sir (W. Vosco Call) and his dresser and personal assistant Norman (Richie Call). The younger Call is grandson to the elder and has said it has been his dream to play Norman to his grandfather's Sir since he was 10 years old.
"The Dresser" peeks into the final days of the relationship between a grand, old thespian who might be knocking on the door of dementia, forgetting what city he is in, wandering about streets in the rain and his personal dresser, the man who works with the actor backstage, putting on makeup and boosting his sagging spirit.
Vosco Call, 80, falls into the role of Sir with ease. His voice is still strong and has a good command of dynamics, which he uses to the maximum, rising to the heights of the commands of King Lear, while falling to a whisper of overwhelming sadness as he ponders aloud how he will be remembered after his death.
His presence on stage was welcomed and appreciated. Audience members could sense his tiredness and disillusionment.
The younger Call was less able to find patrons' emotive heartstrings. The motives behind his desire to push Sir to one more performance while protecting him from other members of the company were never totally felt by the audience. His delivery had a tinge of sarcasm and race-car speed, which never commanded empathy or understanding for the situation in the same sense that it did for the elder Call.
This OLRC production has a striking, imaginative set design by Dennis Hassan. The stage is shrunk by the use of a shadow box-like inner setting, which turns out to be an apartment backstage, for use by Sir, who is traveling England in 1942 with his own Shakespearean company.
The shadow-box design amplifies the often-quiet dialogue and, combined with the pin-drop silence the audience maintained in several of Sir's important scenes, works to amplify the drama and relationships on stage. But with a quarter-turn, the apartment slides aside and the stage opens up to an imaginative backstage look at the Shakespearean production while in progress.
Mitzi Mecham is strong as Her Ladyship, Sir's long-suffering wife. Mecham's presentation puts emotions on Her Ladyship's sleeve. Her reflection on her life as an actress in Act II is especially good.
Emily Heap as Madge, the company manager, needs more work with costuming and makeup to fit the part. She looks too young for the spinster role that is asked of her.The opening weekend of "The Dresser" left audiences satisfied but still wanting a little more. "The Dresser" continues in repertory with "Beau Jest," "Chaps" and "Deathtrap."