June 13, 2003
The Friar and the Nurse
Derivations of Shakespeare continue to fuel the theatre centuries after the Bardís death. In Wednesdayís dress rehearsal of The Friar & the Nurse, local playwright Stan Peal dramatizes the private lives of Julietís nurse and Romeoís friar. The result is a tale that aspires to be as tragic as its inspiration.|
Peal is the mastermind of the debut production of Epic Arts Repertory Theatre. In addition to writing the play and starring as the friar, he designed and built the friarís furniture and composed the music. In a recurring duet Peal croons a monastic chant while his co-star and wife, Laura Depta, sings an Italian Lullaby. Their voices are both somber and hopeful; a fitting complement to this darkly human play.
The action begins twelve years before Romeo and Juliet, during an awkward confessional meeting between the friar and the nurse, played by Depta. The first act is a gem, in which Depta and Peal reveal themselves in emotional bursts behind the anonymity of the confessional screen. Peal depicts them as two vulnerable middle-aged people who have found substitutes for romantic love. The nurse is dedicated to Juliet. The friar is dedicated to God.
A subtext underlying the obvious attraction between the pair is the religious revolution taking place in Germany under the leadership of Martin Luther. The friarís awareness of Lutherís theology translates into his burgeoning distinction between Godís will and the man-made law of the church. Pealís friar is a kind, nature-loving man who recognizes that happiness is rare, and should be considered before rejected. ďHow can God be an enemy to joy?Ē he asks.
As the nurse, Deptaís character grapples viscerally with the morality of the day and her own desires. Her passionate performance ranges from humorous to strident. She displays an amusing combination of intelligence, piety and bawdiness. The hearty banter between the couple exposes the palpable loneliness of daily life. By comparison, the tenets of the distant church seem meaningless.
The language is not Shakespearian, and occasionally the dialogue is heavy handed. ďThe physical urge is for procreation, not enjoyment,Ē spouts the friar, though itís apparent he questions the words as they leave his mouth. Like Shakespeare, the plot is neatly packaged, though in much simpler terms than ever employed by the Bard.
Lon Bumgarnerís set design is darkly illuminating. The friarís cell is cold and prisonlike, but infused with small touches that reveal the friarís character. Two rugged crosses made of crooked branches bound together by rope decorate the walls. A ratty swatch of burlap used as a confessional screen is dappled with flowers the friar has hung to dry.
Bumgarnerís direction adds cohesion to the production. Depta and Peal revel in drunken mirth while kicking over bottles and rolling on the floor, yet they skirt each other skillfully. When Depta escapes through the friarís window she turns toward him in pose that touchingly parallels Julietís balcony scene. At its core, this sad play sweetly validates the desires of the human heart.
Lynn Trenning, June 13, 2003