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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 10, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 06
Solid acting and story in The Bells
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Solid acting and story in The Bells

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Bells
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through February 18


The insidious, incessant sound of bells ringing (part of the great tech support created by sound designer Evan Mosher) is the inner demon of the character Mathias (Peter Crook) in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of Theresa Rebeck's The Bells. The slight tinkling at the beginning of the play builds until nothing else can be heard by Mathias.

The Bells is a mystery, but it isn't a whodunit, it's a who-is-going-to-find-out-who-done-it. Set in a small Alaskan gold-mining town, it's the story of how Mathias murdered a 'Chinaman,' stole his gold, and helped the small, starving community to survive a harsh winter. A number of people are around who know or suspect that happened, including a trio of now drunken bums (Galen Joseph Osier, John Q. Smith, and Lisa Viertel) who cadge off Mathias regularly, to the dismay of Mathias' daughter, Annette (Brenda Joyner). The town keeps the secret because people feel beholden to Mathias for helping them out. And Mathias has constructed a well-oiled justification for the murder: the town had to be saved.

We first meet the Chinaman (Jose Abaoag) and gain sympathy for him, as he describes falling in love with a young Chinese girl whose family sold her into prostitution. He's come to Alaska to make enough money to go back to China to buy her freedom and marry her. He also has befriended Annette, and gives the small child a set of Chinese bells. This cements our connection to this worthy fellow, and gives us distance from Mathias and his act of 'charity.'

We understand immediately the threat that is posed by newcomer Canadian Baptiste (Patrick Allcorn), who comes asking questions, apparently from the parents of Lin Xuifei, who have come from China seeking answers. Mathias is not as concerned about going to jail as he is with keeping his daughter Annette from learning about the crime that has supported their lifestyle. Yet, he encourages Annette's potential affection with Baptiste. Maybe in this way Baptiste would be bound not to reveal Mathias' secret if he uncovered it.

The seven cast members are all strong and the direction by Julie Beckman impeccably sets the atmosphere of cold and stark surroundings, a desperate winter landscape and lifestyle, and ultimate stakes. There are a few slow spots in the script, but the psychological thriller works its magic with the help of sound (including incessant wind), a great lighting design by Reed Nakayama, and some amazing set aspects from Montana Tippett.

The set has a background of mountain peaks that appear created on tall flats, but when the lights come up, you'll see nothing of the sort (you should see them). However, much of the vast, snowy landscape is so obviously sheeting that it looks more like a set that you should ignore than a set that holds a terrifyingly cold secret terrain. Sprayed-on texturizer might have looked better.

Definitely recommended for people who like good acting and a lot of story! And if you like ghosts, well then, this play has it all!

For more information, go to www.strawshop.org or call 206-427-5207.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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