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May 17, 1979 - Image 9

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Michigan Daily, 1979-05-17

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, May 17, 1979-Page 9

'Ashes' fine, fiery despite flaws

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
When an artistic presentation turns
out to be a mostly brilliant offering,
you end up wanting everything in it to
be brilliant-you become much pickier,
more demanding than you might be un-
der ordinary circumstances. Those
flaws that do inevitably work their way
to the surface thus seem doubly in-
furiating.
That is the unfortunate burden
Detroit's Attic Theatre is made to bear in
its current production of David
Rudkin's Ashes, a play at once
horrifyingly disturbing, wrenchingly
compassionate, and so self-mockingly
wise it leaves its audience in a state of
profoundly mixed, generally shattered
emotions. It makes for an unforgettable
evening of theater, its scope so intense

Colin and Anne pluckily obey the em-
barrassingly explicit instructions of then
varied pontifical specialists-new
coital positions, bathing the genitals in
ice water, etc.-enduring under-the-
microscope procedures and potential
guilt ("Is it my fault? Is it yours?")
with their love and jocularity intact. Af-
ter months of charts, cycles and
laborious rituals ("I wish we could get
back to sex for the hell of it," Anne
laments), their prayers seem , an-
swered: Anne is pregnant.
Yet Rudkin has saved up his cruelest
blows for the second act. After several
tenuous, delicate months, Anne
miscarries and must undergo an ac-
companying hysterectomy. Denied
natural childbirth forever, she and
Colin petition for adoption, only to be
denied even there; there aren't enough

it's also about the ongoing war in
Ulster-the irreconcilability of which is
meant symbolically to doom the
couple's attempts at impregnation.
Rudkin's preoccupation with sterility
and extinction seems as obsessive as
that of Edward Albee; like his Ameican
compatriot, Rudkin harbors severe
doubts about man's fate: Ifa "perfect"
couple like Colin and Anne meet such a
dead end, can there be any hope for any
of us? Yet through his insistence on
using Ashes as a specific metaphor for
the English-Irish agony, Rudkin limits
his own universality.
The playwright seems so intent on
making the Irish conflict a symbol of
humanity's dawning obsolescence that
the inescapable regionalism of his focus
gives the play a parochial quality
inadequate to his cosmic forebodings.
An American play on racial in equity
would seem no less narrow, yet taken
on its own, Colin and Anne's plight
carries a power that transcends
national or ethnic boundaries.
DESPITE RUDKIN'S regional blin-
ders, what force this play has, and what
acting! Betsy Marrion's Anne is in-
credible; it's the kind of performance
one can look back on years later and
feel privileged to have witnessed it.
Looking like a young Elizabeth Taylor
but possessing five times the talent,
Marrion molds her character in such an
unbearably moving progression that
one is devastated. When she exults in
the sheer joy of life, you want to exult
with her; as her spirit gradually
withers under the duress of barreness,
you cry, literally. When she screams
over her miscarriage you want to
scream yourself over the perversion of
a blank, unjust universe. Marrion's
final speech, describing a nightmare in
which Anne gives birth to a strange,
shimmering mutated starchild is one of
the most terrifying soliloquies I've ever
heard in any play.
Amazingly, Marrion is matchedevery
step of the way by Bill Clyne in a
multiple role. Billed in Attic's program
as a "weekend actor" who performs
"for fun," Clyne still proves a con-
summate thespian as he fidgets his ver-
satile way through a string of MD's, an
ambulance attendant and an adoption
director. Throughout the fiendish
diversity of his characterizations,
Clyne aptly maintains the strain of

brutal, officialized indifference to the
couple's plight, an impassiveness made
infuriating by a thin, false veneer of
rote compassion.
Sadly, the surpassing brilliance of
these two actors leaves David Jefferies'
co-lead Colin looking extremely feeble.
It's not really Jefferies' fault; though
he never masters his Irish brogue, Jef-
feries delivers a perfectly competent
performance that might even seem
arresting at another time in another
production. But Jefferies is simply out
of his league with the two heavyweights
Ashes
David Rudkin
A"tcta"Dee,
ThroughJune9

Colin..
Anne..
Man ..

David Jefferies
Betsy Marrian
.....i ll Clyne

Spencer Golub, director
playing opposite him here. Rudkin's
delicate, even-handed Anne-Colin
balance is thrown out of kilter by
casting Colin as something of a wimp
next to Anne's power, making it easy to
blame Colin though Rudkin
scrupulously wants them to be looked
upon as equal victims.
Spencer Golub's direction of the
overall production is appropriately
spare and to the point, letting the play
speak for itself. The Attic's company
appears a bit uncomfortable in its new
building and stage facilities-some
light cues are erratic, many of the
sound effects are obtrusively loud. Yet
The Attic should certainly be
congratulated for a passionate
execution of an excruciatingly difficult
play. If both the company and Rudkin
lack perfection, it certainly isn't
through lack of commitment or
courage. Ashes is faulted but unforget-
table.

Betsy Marrion and David Jeffries pla
powerful production of "Ashes."
that its two major imperfections-a
self-limiting symbolism employed by
the author and a glaring casting
mistake by Attic's company-seem like
blights on an icon.
ASHES FOCUSES with merciless in-
timacy on a young couple in present-
day London. Anne (Betsy Marrion) is
English, Colin (David Jefferies) is Nor-
thern Irish. They seem a dream
couple-smart, hip, witty and above all
very much in love. Yet they're-
weighted down by a strange, incessant
agony: Above all else in the world they
want a child, yet Anne is unable to con-
ceive. There seems no physical basis
for the couple's chronic infertility, and
we watch our protagonists embark on a
ghoulish, purgatorial journey through
an endless series of medical specialists
and accompanyingly humiliating
techniques and problems.

y Anne and Colin in Attic Theatre's
babies to go around, and our
protagonists don't seem a sufficiently
"stable" couple to satisfy the adoption
agencies. Thus they are locked off
legally and physically from the thing
that matters most to them, their stake
in humanity's future cut off for eter-
nity.
LEST ONE think Ashes' plot is the
stuff of soap opera, rest assured that
Rudkin possesses the sentimentality of
a carving knife. His play mercilessly,
savagely delineates the love-is-not-
enough syndrome, rattling the irony of
life-lovers who cannot produce life
themselves. We watch Anne and Celin's
playful buoyancy wither into a con-
suming, sardonic bitterness; God is a
sadist and there's nothing we can do
about it.
The trouble-with Ashes is that it isn't
just about Colin's and Anise's anguish,

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