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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
The Cut looks good, but needs some shaping
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The Cut looks good, but needs some shaping

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Cut
Open Circle Theater
Through February 5


There are three different aspects to deal with for this world premiere production of The Cut at Open Circle Theater: the story (from the memoir by Dennis Milam Bensie), the adaptation by Dustin Engstrom, and the production, directed by Gary Zinter. Each has specific contributions. First, the overall impression is that it's gutsy work, occasionally including really nice acting, addressing unusual human addictions, and aspiring to illuminate the human condition.

The story is an autobiography by a fine wigmaker, Dennis Milam Bensie, who works at Intiman Theatre. You know he's a fine wigmaker because some beautiful wigs he made are used in the production. He developed an obsession with hair as a young boy and apparently grew to believe that he couldn't love anyone because once he was able to shave someone's hair off, he lost interest. There was child rape by a young friend's uncle, and parental rejection by a father who was afraid his son was too girly. Obsession grew to include a component of resistance. He got more turned on when someone did not want his hair cut!

Apparently, that sent him into places where he might try to cut a homeless man's hair while the homeless man is sleeping! It's a great way to maybe get killed, and he certainly got hurt. But this compulsion also turned him into a menace to others. Eventually, he gets help and medicine that help him manage his obsessions and we can hope that he's able to live a fulfilling and complete life, with real human and humane love.

Dustin Engstrom tackled this long biography, making a character named Derick who starts out making himself a doll with yarn hair that becomes a kind of alter-ego. Engstrom uses the doll as a kind of guiding angel or goading angel. However, the device ends up confusing the issues and the doll dialogue does a lot of 'telling' of things: You're mad at your father & the guy in the bathroom stole your roommate's watch. How does the doll know? The actress who portrays the doll Stefeny, Monica Wulzen, is a charismatic presence on stage. She attempts to fulfill the role as written, but can't overcome the confusing aspects of who she is to Derick.

Engstrom's play also may have taken on too much in terms of the historic specifics of life, and sacrificed a focus on the meaning of this life. The play stays completely focused on the obsession with sexual fulfillment, when there could be many other aspects to Derick's life that help fill out the sketchiness of the character. Hair, coincidentally, is also missing in the script, aside from the shearing off of it for sexual pleasure! There is no information on Derick's development into a hair craftsman, which must also have taken a lot of time and effort. And the end doesn't leave us full of the gladness we maybe should feel that Derick has found a way out of the pain.

The script tends to tell the stories of the life, but not necessarily connect the audience with the emotions necessary to care about the character and his travails. The production, however, has some affecting moments due to Joan Jankowski as Derick's mother and Scott Shoemaker as Derick's good friend Jake. Both these actors portray the hearts that reach out to help Derick. Michael LaDell Harris does a good job portraying Derick as a nervous, troubled person, but somehow doesn't quite reach the audience's gut.

Gary Zinter's direction works nicely on a stark stage with a barber chair in the middle, and stakes upon which wigs are periodically hung after use. The production energy stays brisk and interesting. Regan MacStravic's light design is a great support. There is some explicit sexual activity on stage, handled with adroitness and finesse. Nothing gets so graphic that most adults couldn't handle it, aside from maybe some amount of embarrassment.

There is humor at times, so it's not unrelentingly dark. Open Circle likes to challenge people to explore the darker sides of human experience and this piece fits well with that challenge. There are areas that don't work that well, but it's a worthy experiment, after all. For more information, go to www.octheater.com or call 206-382-4250.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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