Ecstasy

by Mike Leighcole theatre

Directed by Shade Murray

produced by Cole Theatre

At A Red Orchid Theatre, Chicago

Strong Cockney accents hurt the intensely naturalistic British 70’s drama

Cole Theatre, an  Equity based new Chicago theatre company renting A Red Orchid Theatre, sure has ambition by mounting  Mike Leigh’s dark comic drama, Ecstasy,  about working class Brits  who live lives of “quiet desperation.” The potential here featuring a dedicated cast fully engaged in the material utilizing Grant Sabin’s one room flat in London is enormous.

We meet Jean (Maura Kidwell) a lonely poor 30something who always finds loser men to shakeup with leading her to dull her senses in a gin bottle. Her best friend, the married Dawn (Michaela Petro) arrives to cheer up Jean by taking her out for drinks at a local pub. Just before they leave Jean’s flat, Roy (Joel Reitsma) returns to see Jean after spending the night having sex with her as we witnessed the naked afterglow at the play’s start. Dawn and Roy clash immediately but when Roy’s wife Val (Lauren Pizzi) burst into the flat, the fight is on between Roy and her with Dawn trying to stop the blows from coming. This is a well staged fight scene! Eventually Jean dismisses Roy and she and Dawn are off to the pub.

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Act two, twice as long as act one, finds Jean, Dawn and husband Mick (Boyd Harris) with  the group’s old friend Len (Layne Manzer) having a drunken party in Jean’s flat. Harp and gin are the order of the night as all get super “pissed’ (to use an English term for drunk). Mike, in his Irish brogue philosophizes in pure Irish mentality as he and his old bud, Len reminisce about their days as youths while Jean stays somewhat stoic as he imbibes her gin faithfully. Dawn becomes even more obnoxious than normal as she gets shit-faced. Through all the alcohol, we witness the quiet lonely desperation of the poor as each now lament their dashed hopes and dreams. Len is too shy to approach Jean, whom he has always pinned for while Jean fails to appreciate Len as a person who could makes her life pleasant.

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Ecstasy is a often funny play that is too realistic for its own good as the extreme Cockney accents devastate the production. Kidwell and Petro sport the same tone and high-pitch that instantly becomes irritable. Kidwell slurs and mumbles while Petro races through her dialogue with such a thick Cockney accent so fast than 95% of what she says is unintelligible. Why? The most respected dialect coaches have told me that “better to hint at an accent than use such an authentic accent as to be not understood.”  I agree.  Petro almost sank the production in her early scenes since many in the audience get restless as she raced on and on with that fast-talking accent.  If they are going to use such authentic accents, best use super-titles like the opera so we can understand what is being said. What really amazes me about the use of strong accents is how much audience members and some fellow critics agree with me after leaving the theatre that they couldn’t understand the dialogue but I’m one of the few who mentions that in reviews. I believe those interested in seeing a play would want to know if the accents are so thick or the use of another language so dominates a work that it could be difficult to understand.  I believe we should report that if it is the case as it is here.

In fairness, I should report that Boyd Harris and Layne Manzer each were articulate and understandable despite using authentic accents proving that it is possible to do both. They each speak slow enough with fine emphasis rendering the wit and humor of their dialogue effectively.

Ecstasy is a near miss for Cole Theatre. The acting was truthful, the cast worked hard, espcially Maura Kidwell , Boyd Harris and Michaela Petro. If only the women would tone down the accents and speak slower, Ecstasy would emerge as stage worthy.

Some what Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: August 25, 2014

For more info checkout the Ecstasy page at theatreinchicago.com

At A Red Orchid Theatre,  1531 N. Wells, Chicago, IL,  call 773-747-6821, www.coletheatre.org, tickets $15 – $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at  3pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through September 28, 2014