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August 10, 1978 - Image 6

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1978-08-10

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Page 6-Thursday, August 10, 1978-The Michigan Daily
A MOVING DUETA TSTRA TFORD:
Sheldon Rosen's'Virginia Woolf'

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
Special tothe Daily
STRATFORD, Ont.-Ned and Jack,
a new work by Canadian playwright
Sheldon Rosen, is one of the major
current offerings of Stratford's Third
Stage Theatre-an arena-style theatre

Ned and Jack
By Sheldon Rosen
StratfordFestival Theatre
................... Jack Wetherall
... Alan Scarfe
Directed by Peter Mass

Ned..
Jack .

playwright Edward Sheldon, in New
York in the early 1920s. Barrymore was
of course the most renowned actor of
his time; Sheldon, almost totally
forgotten today, was in fact the most
revered playwright of his generation,
worshipped as a mkntor-god by Eugene
O'Neill and countless other contem-
poraries.
SHELDON'S WAS a career destined
to be cut horrifyingly short: stricken
with acute arthritis while still in his late
twenties, he was soon forced to abandon
his writing, and within a decade had
become both blind and physically im-
mobile.
Rosen's play details a fictionalized
but plausible late-night drunken revel
between these two inseparable friends,
each caught at a crossroad of his life.
Jack (Alan Scarfe) has just opened in a
Broadway production of Hamlet, and
received the most ecstatic reviews of
his career. He is now a full-fledged

now elevated to full-programmed
status in this year's Festivals am-
bitiously expanded program.
Ned and Jack chronicles a lone but
profound encounter between John
Barrymore and his best friend,

superstar, and terrified by the idea.
Ned (Jack Wetherall), already a semi-
invalid, has been informed that same
evening by his doctor that his disease is
incurable and that he will irrevocably
Q3 rtainmcnnts
progress into total incapacitation.
THE TWO friends' moonlit
celebration commences as Jack tipsily
scales Ned's balcony and, still clad in
his Hamlet costume, with four cham-
paigne bottles in hand, lurches into his
sleeping friend's bedroom. Thus follows
a night-into-morning exorcism much on
the scale of Who's Afraid of Virginia
Woolf, and often crackling with the
same intensity as its comic and tragic
elements are juxtaposed with
sometimes unnerving rapidity.
Jack flings himself about with a
rapier-sharp, often brutally self-
deprecating wit, his thespian's dignity
impaired by his inebriation only when
he lapses into bouts of self-pity and
guilt. He laments his compulsive licen-
ciousness, and bemoans his guilt over
his absence from his wife and daughter,
living in Paris. He rattles off this
familiar confessional to Ned, whom he
regards not only as his best friend but
as his artistic and spiritual guide.
NED, INWARDLY no less intense but
still the cooler, more laid back of the
two, is reluctant to dwell verbally on his
own far greater dilemmas, and it is
Jack's slow-dawning realization of his
compatriot's impending disaster that
gives the play its deep and ultimately
tragic focus.
In its early stages Ned and Jack
maintains a fairly light key, abounding
with a slashing, bitchy humor that
might make Albee himself jealous. The
two pals guzzle the champagne,
reminisce about their travels and their
art, and hilariously attempt to urinate
off the outer balcony. Act Two,
however, veers decidedly to the somber
side, as Ned's impending sentence to a
living death takes center stage in its
wobbly protagonists' preoccupation.
AS THE BOOZE begins to work its
tongue-loosening effects, all of Ned's
pent-up terror and fury begins to spill
forth. He lashes out at Jack's self-
centerdness, and speculates
grotesquely on what "favorite position"
an attendant will someday have to set
his own soon-to-turn-to-stone body in
when receiving visitors.
As the total horror of Ned's
predicament hits him full in the face,
Jack searches frantically and
agonizingly for a way to help his friend,
while the night outside dwindles into
early dawn. He suggests they both sim-
ply chuck their present lives and go live
in some South Seas paradise. Ned bit-
The island of Madagascar, off the
southeast coast of Africa, is a little
smaller than the state of Texps. It is 980
miles long and measures 360 miles
across at its widest point.

terly rejects the idea of becoming a
veritable burden to Jack or anyone
else, then proceeds to cut mercilessly
through all of Jack's desperate attem-
pts at solace. It soon becomes clear that
all the booze and intellectulization in
the world will not help assuage the
tragedy that will soon cut like a scythe
between them.
AT THIS SEEMINGLY dead-end
point, when Jack finally sees that the
only balm he can offer his friend is sim-
ple love, enforced by the absolute
knowledge that that love does exist, he
exhorts Ned to repeat after him: "Jack
loves me!" At first mocking, Ned's
shield of cynicism disintegrates and he
collapses, sobbing into Jack's arms in a
long, heartfelt and dramatically
believable embrace.
Afterwards, Ned makes Jack promise
-to bring the outside world in to him as
the years go by, as his own capacity to
perceive it will soon be limited to the
circumstances of his own bedroom. The
exorcism is now complete, and Ned can
face the darkness that awaits him by
his knowledge that he will not be facing
it totally alone. (Indeed, Sheldon sub-
sequently became receiver and counsel
to innumerable friends in the arts who
beat a continual path to his door until
his death some 25 years later).
DESPITE SOME strained predic-
tability as its plot turns grimmer, Ned
and Jack remains a corkingly enter-
taining play handicapped by one very
large flaw: The performance of Jack
Wetherall as Ned falls woefully short of
capturing either his character's terror
or his increasingly tragic dignity in
learning-to cope with his fate.
Wetherall handles the lighter ex-
changes with fair aplomb, but appears
totally out of his depth when confron-
ting the deeper turmoil of Jack's life.
He is able to affect an athritic's stiff
movements adequately, but his bland,
sometimes outright flat verbal and
facial gestures rarely convey the
slightest notion of the meaning of pain.
Far from suffering the agonies of a
body turned enemy, Wetherall seems
barely to work up so much as a light
sweat during the course of th other-
wise harrowing evening.
CONSIDERING THE lack of a sub-
stantial foil to play off of, it is a tribute
to Alan Scarfe that his Barrymore
remains throughout the determinedly
vibrant presence necessary to propel
the play. Scarfe is a wonderfully rich
and robust actor, and in Ned and Jack
he passionately captures the carousing,
charismatic dynamo that was so
typically Barrymore. If his dramatic
moments don't work quite as well as his
comic ones, it may be that he frequen-
tly felt forced to overcompensate for
Wetherall's lack of any visible
emotion.
Peter Moss' direction is sensitive and
tightly paced throughout, and Shawn
Kerwin's one-bedroom set is fun-
ctionally excellent, allowing the actors
to roam about freely. Rosen's writing is
perhaps derivative of Albee and others,
but remains both funny and moving in
its tribute to the awesome healing
powers of friendship and human love.
One can only achingly wonder what,
say, Nicholas Pennell or Brian Bedford
(both currently at Stratford) might
have achieved opposite Scarfe in the
role of Ned. Perhaps ifa future produc-
tion of thisplay materializes, theStrat-

Song sung bland
Neil Diamond takes one in a series of many breaks to acknowledge his fans in a
Pine Knob appearance on Tuesday.

Monday's Special- Tequila Night
Spedil low price on al tequila drinks
' "MUSIC AND MEAL DEAL"
I Dine at the restaurant after 4:00 P.M. and
receive FREE admission to Nightclub that eve-
i ning. SUN.-THURS.

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