Let’s call it “The Miracle on Wayne Avenue.” Dayton Theatre Guild held a double opening on August 28th. In exactly one year of frenetic activity, the Guild found and developed the former Dayton Gym Club site on Wayne Avenue into a slightly expanded replica of its storied “theater in the round” concept.
Closing its home of 45 years on Salem Avenue, for the first time in its existence the Guild had all its belongings in one place. The transition, like all of the Guild’s history, was a miracle not sent from heaven above, but the result of the total commitment of those who have made this living theater a great part of their lives.
Hard work, commitment, artistic ideals and a pool of incredible talent are the prime assets of DTG’s history since its humble beginnings in 1945. I have been attending since 1947 in a nearly unbroken stream. I can say that some of our greatest theater experiences have been at the Dayton Theatre Guild. It has a repertory company that makes life-long commitments to acting, directing, costuming, set building and raising modest funds to support its purpose. As loyal as the company is their audience. The combination has been magical.
The new theater, the Caryl D. Philips Theatre Scape, represents her continuing major support well mixed with the donations of hundreds of others. There is still money to be raised for essentials such as theater lighting. The opening of the first play had interesting lighting effects, either on or off!
Undismayed and undaunted, the company not only completed their construction miracle but mounted one of their largest and most ambitions productions, Christopher Hampton’s, Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Logic would have dictated opening the theatre with a gala review or a simpler play. The Guild has always been fearless and recreated the elegant ambiance of late 18th Century France with its usual accuracy and artistry.
Director Greg Smith and Producer Ralph Dennler had to alternate paint brushes with scripts and scene building to pull off their double miracle. The costume team had to create multiple garbs for 13 cast members who, heaven forbid, could not be seen in last season’s outfit.
Greg Smith and Carol Finley put the ladies into the most elegant gowns of rich fabric and uncomfortable “hip bustles.” The men wore knee britches topped with coats of lush fabrics and colors which make the blue blazers of today look like potato sacks.
Perhaps one scene was meant to save money. Beautiful Katrina Kittle was a lively courtesan clothed only in a strategically placed bed sheet. How much more could have been saved by eliminating the sheet?
The play occupies the minds and times of the French nobility in 1789. These pampered creatures would be, 20 years later, heading for the guillotine after the Revolution stamped out their excesses and replaced them with its own excesses. Sex was the predominant occupation. Sex had to be mixed with intrigue to make it interesting and exciting to the otherwise bored and pampered nobles.
As Don Juan became the icon of sexual appetite, Valmont has become the icon of sexual intrigue. He conquers not only to conquer but to complicate or even destroy others’ lives and reputations. Marriage was for status, estate and heredity. Marriages were a gateway to dalliances and affairs which were the spice of their existence.
To discuss the plot would be a major thesis probably requiring diagrams. Who, what and why would be the essential footnotes. Let me synthesize by stating that the cast was outstanding in every respect. They handled subtle character relations and intrigue with clarity and elegance.
Michael Boyd and Ame Clase gave the protagonists, Valmont and Marquis de Merteuil, a dramatic excitement and focus. Their foils, young convent-trained Cecile who eagerly discovered her sexuality and her chevalier Danceny, were characterized marvelously by Charity Farrell and David Sherman.
It is Madame de Tourvel, brought to life with perfection by Amy Brooks, that takes the play, the story, from a bed-hopper into a true drama with real emotions and real consequences. Amy played a young and want-to-be faithful wife who is besieged by Valmont’s false but strategic protestations of love.
He relentlessly breaks down her resistance by changing his platonic desires into consummate sexual relations. While performing his malicious intrigue he, yes you guessed it, falls in love with the innocent beauty he has caught in his trap.
The results, after many twists and turns, are her death in a convent from grief and guilt and Valmont’s death in a duel with Danceny. Danceny has lost a modicum of his ardent chivalry and become Ame Clase’s lover, supplanting Valmont’s desires to rekindle their relationship.
The duel, staged by Natasha Randall and Craig Roberts, was like another character itself. The brilliant swordsmanship reflected the character of each dueler. Valmont’s thrusts and parries were his cynicism. Danceny’s thrust and parries were full of his lost innocence and ardor.
An epiphany occurred in a marvelous piece of dramatic magic. Valmont sees a fantasy of his destroyed Tourvel and surrenders his life to an almost accidental thrust by Danceny. Nothing is solved; the intrigue ends with deaths and character destruction. Only the malevolent strength of Ame Clase’s Marquise continues as she ends the play with the line, “Let the game go on.”
The play continues through September 13th. The miracle of the Dayton Theatre Guild will continue indefinitely!