As a tour de force for actress Susan O. Koozin, portraying seven characters with impressive detail and conviction, Stages’ The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead succeeds splendidly.
Yet, as a play, Robert Hewett’s clever but contrived concoction doesn’t quite work.
Premiered in Sydney in 2004, the Australian playwright’s solo show has been staged at several U.S. theaters. One understands why Stages boss Kenn McLaughlin chose it to showcase Koozin, whose memorable performances at Stages have ranged from impudent Mae West in Dirty Blonde to the gaga elderly Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens.
The play unfolds as eight monologues that gradually reveal — Rashomon-fashion, through wildly divergent perspectives — the circumstances surrounding suburban housewife Rhonda Russell’s explosion of violence at a shopping mall.
Rhonda, who delivers the opening and closing monologues, is the redhead of the title, a mousy spouse whose husband, Graham, has left her. The blonde is the apparent reason, Graham’s new inamorata. The brunette is Lynette, Rhonda’s relentlessly meddling friend, who blabs the info that sends Rhonda on a rampage.
In the funniest and most sharply written monologue, Lynette justifies her intrusion, spilling a revelation that turns the situation on its head. But it points up a problem because this key factor is essentially a comic conception, and Lynette, its cause, is essentially a funny character. Yet from a situation that’s a natural engine for farce, Hewett draws mostly tragic outcomes, with many of the surrounding monologues surprisingly somber.
In arranging a wide array of roles, Hewett veers off on tangents increasingly irrelevant to Rhonda’s marital meltdown. Sure, he eventually reveals how each character is somehow connected to Rhonda’s rampage, but the “everything’s connected” theme feels increasingly forced. Hewett’s most egregious misjudgments come in the maudlin scene of a bereaved 4-year-old boy and in making the wayward husband so repellent that we don’t even want to hear from him.
Koozin, however, makes no missteps in her portrayals, shrewdly calibrated by director McLaughlin. Little old lady or tiny tyke, desperate housewife or unrepentant adulterer, philosophical doctor or hypocritical busybody, she brings each role to vivid life, imbuing each characterization with intense focus and vitality.
Kirk Markley’s production design is an astute response to the challenge of providing a physical frame for this type of showcase — with the fact that all Koozin’s changes occur onstage adding to the sense that this is first and foremost an acting vehicle.
If you’re looking for a dramatic narrative that stands on its own merit, The Blonde, Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead doesn’t quite add up. But if you can appreciate a formidable display of versatility, this is it.
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THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 30
Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway
Tickets: $19-$52; 713-527-0123