Girl on girl action

Posted on 14 Mar 2008 at 2:42pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones Stage Critic

Annalee Jeffries is a stunner playing five women (and a few men) in ‘The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead’


In the film "Rashomon," the same event gets told from four different narrators, each betraying his own biases: In one version a man’s a hero, in another he’s a coward. (The devise has since been stolen by every sitcom to make it to a fifth season.) The point is to illustrate how objectivity is nearly impossible in a subjective world.

A similar devise is used in the Dallas Theater Center’s new production of "The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead," only with a few twists. First, all of the narrators — all of the characters — are portrayed by the same actress, Annalee Jeffries. Second, although each character discusses the same general event, the script is more ambitious, showing the long-term consequences of a seemingly simple misunderstanding.

The first person we meet is the vengeful redhead, Rhonda, who after 17 years of marriage learns her husband is leaving her for a trampy blonde Russian girl, Tania. Rhonda’s nosy neighbor, Lynette, is the brunette who encourages Rhonda to "confront" Tania (as Rhonda tells it; Lynette tells a different tale).

But things don’t go as planned, even if there is a plan, and a play that begins by looking like a series of comic monologue eventually progresses into a touching story of tragedy and redemption.
Although primed for a comedy, I was relieved when the play took a serious turn. The first scene with Rhonda feels and looks "writerly," like a short-story being acted out by an overly anxious raconteur. The monologue overflows with seemingly extraneous details and coincidences that seem intended to add depth and convince us this could really happen.

But as the play unfolds, with each new character adding to the plot, you realize the details are what hold the story together. They do add depth … and as unlikely as they sometime seem, make for a breathless narrative.

The playwright, Robert Hewett, has constructed a deceptively cerebral piece about acceptance, responsibility and fate. There’s a lot more to be gleaned in the small moments than in some of the larger ones. He’s fashioned a narrative where character really does reveal plot.

Hewett must share much of the credit with the director, Mark Lamos, and the star, Jeffries. Lamos, a Broadway veteran in his DTC debut, uses video projection above the stage to "act out" some of the dialogue. For a moment, it smacks of gimmickry, but as the play progresses the images anchor the words. The pictures we paint in our heads become concrete, the events more real. The video keeps the play a play and not a short story.

Jeffries steals even more of the thunder. Hers is a remarkable performance, a transformative one — literally and figuratively. Changing costumes onstage behind scrims, she moves from mousy housewife to ageing hippy chick to lesbian doctor to sassy tart effortlessly.

But when she tackles two male roles — a small boy whose mother is brutally attacked and Rhonda’s crass, boorish husband — you can detect the electricity in the audience. Her impersonations are so acutely observed, your mind races to when Lily Tomlin took on a similar task in "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" 20 years ago. It’s pure virtuosity, what you go to the theater for.

"The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead" plays at the Kalita Humphreys Theater through April 6.


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