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Posted Apr 17, 2012, 2:18 pm
The Invisible Theatre’s Susan Claassen may have to relinquish her crown for one-woman shows. With its latest offering, “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead,” Claassen, the theater’s charismatic managing artistic director, is making room for her protégé, Betsy Kruse Craig.
Claassen is a willing participant in the challenge – she is the designer, co-producer and co-director of the show starring Craig.
Claassen, now in her 37th year with IT, has won national recognition for her on-going one-woman show, “A Conversation with Edith Head,” about the famous Hollywood fashion designer.
“The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” closes the Invisible Theatre’s 42nd annual season with a seven character tour-de-force. Betsy Kruse Craig, who is also an associate director at IT, takes the minimally decorated stage and does not let it go. Portions of her costume changes occur on-stage through a screen, so that we can better appreciate the extent of her transformations. The play unfolds as each character layers on information to the narrative from her (or his) perspective.
Ironically, the play’s inciting incident hinges on a case of mistaken identity.
Redheaded Rhonda addresses us first, hesitantly explaining the dissolution of her 17-year marriage to her husband, Graham. Her neighbor, Lynette, has seen Graham with flashy blonde Tanya, who runs a cheap jewelry store at the mall. As we realize that she is under arrest, holding a bloodied handkerchief, she describes how she confronted the blonde, grabbing her from behind in the mall’s food court.
Kruse Craig then becomes Dr. Alex Doucette, a British therapist. Dr. Doucette is trying to come to grips with the news that her partner, Chrissie, was attacked and is in surgery with a head trauma.
In the next incarnation, she is Lynette, Rhonda and Graham’s trashy, gossipy neighbor. Jersey-accented Lynette egged on Rhonda into confronting the woman who stole her man, but mistakenly sicced her on the wrong woman, innocent blonde look-alike Chrissie. In the attack, Chrissie fell, hit her head and died from the trauma.
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Then she becomes Matthew, Alex and Chrissie’s son, too young to understand what has happening, but aware that it is bad, very bad.
After intermission, Kruse Craig shows up as Graham, Rhonda’s philandering husband, who proudly gives his tawdry, hyper-macho recap of his marriage’s demise, including his casual affair with Lynette. Rhonda is now serving a 12-year jail sentence.
Next, gray-haired Mrs. Carlson, Alexandra and Chrissie’s elderly neighbor, talks about the after effects of the tragedy on the innocent non-traditional family.
Tanya, a Russian émigré and the blonde Lynette thought was Graham’s girlfriend, clarifies the situation. Graham tried to hit on her, grabbed her and kissed her (which Lynette witnessed), but she had nothing but disdain for the lug.
Finally Rhonda returns, now in prison togs, to provide closure to the story.
The show gives Kruse Craig plenty of opportunity to show her range. Each character gets his or her own accent – British, Russian, New Jersey – and language. Each has a unique costume, ranging from lab coat to housecoat, black negligee to bright orange jump suit.
She manages the rapid changes terrifically, falling right into each subsequent character immediately.
The script by Australian Robert Hewett is serviceable, given that by definition with only one character on-stage, there is no action, only description, to move the play along. He ambitiously covers more than a decade in time, so the narrative is sometimes sketchy with long ellipses. However, he interweaves little details – Dr. Doucette treating Graham for depression, Lynette and Graham’s subsequent relationship – that tie the individual story lines together in interesting ways.
The show is co-directed by Claassen and University of Arizona theater faculty member Brent Gibbs and is co-produced by Claassen and IT associate producer Cathy Johnson. Associate artistic director James Blair did the lighting design with Claassen and IT Associate Director Gail Fitzhugh handling sound design.
Invisible Theatre is in good hands to maintain its high standards if highly talented people like Betsy Kruse Craig and the rest of the IT troupe represent the future. The quaint little theater has survived social and economic changes for more than 40 years. If “The Blonde, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” is an indicator of the company’s canny understanding of its audience, it could well go on for another 42 years.
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