Watching talented actors play ignorant, paranoid, homophobic, and self-righteous right-wingers angrily abusing a stuffed bear is so crazy it’s funny…Joe Tantalo’s high energy production, for Godlight Theatre Company, is precise and beautifully choreographed, and it successfully captures the absurd brutality of our times.
The play’s targets skew far and wide, with (real) reactionary politicians, a rapacious media and overzealous law-enforcement figures all getting a drubbing. Minnesota’s Tea Party Congresswoman Michele Bachmann proposes legislation banning teddy bears. Television news reporter Dan Abrams (Elliot Hill) narrates the tale in breathless tabloid style. And an FBI profiler determines that the 1-foot-tall bear is clearly suffering from a Napoleon complex…there are enough laughs here to make the evening worthwhile, and director Joe Tantalo’s energetic staging provides plenty of goofily absurdist touches — as when the entire ensemble breaks into “Happy Talk” from “South Pacific.” Best of all is Winkie, who — as voiced and manipulated by Paglino, the actor playing Clifford — seems like a living, breathing teddy bear. His solo curtain call is well deserved.
Godlight Theatre Company offers up a fascinating world premiere comedy…Direction by Joe Tantalo is spot-on, allowing the actors to milk their characterizations for maximum effect. Tantalo also expertly guides the pacing of the play and performances as the work continually switches gears from the more rousing or tabloid moments to scenes of quiet introspection.
There’s pleasure to be had along the way…Director Joe Tantalo’s staging is lively and clever…Elizabeth Rhodes’ sound design is terrific, as is Maruti Evans’ lighting, with Winkie on trial in a dramatic center spotlight….Winkie is played by an actual teddy bear, but Nick Paglino, as Chase, also voices him excellently and manipulates him expertly…Adam Kee, as Winkie’s hapless attorney, is in hilarious early–Gene Wilder mode, stuttering and miserable in a rumpled suit and an awful tie…Geraldine Johns is touching as Winkie’s nurse and protector, and Rick Sordelet has staged some bracingly intricate stage fights.
Under Joe Tantalo’s sharp direction, Godlight Theatre Company’s peppy production gets a lot of mileage from its narrative frame—one of those hour-long MSNBC ‘investigative’ reports on the incident. Elliot Hill portrays the special’s breathless British host with a pitch-perfect ear for our fatuous broadcast media, stepping in and out of the shadows to comment with appropriately hilarious pomposity…The turning point, however, falls later, when Winkie decides to break his stoic silence and tell his story. (Nick Paglino, who doubles as Winkie’s distraught owner, puppeteers and voices the role suggestively.) The teddy’s fantastical monologue steers the play into a much needed new dimension—ursine allegory, perhaps?—with surprising emotional power. At last, the piece seems to channel all those animal emblems from modern literature— Kafka’s cockroach, Bulgakov’s black cat—as it makes a refreshing dip into the absurd.
Joe Tantalo and his collaborators at Godlight Theatre Company have done a spectacular job realizing a complex script in the tiny 59E59 Theatre C space, with a minimalist set (by Maruti Evans, also responsible for the excellent lighting design) and evocative sound (Elizabeth Rhodes; music by Andrew Recinos). Perhaps the most invaluable aspect of the design is the teddy bear that ‘plays’ Winkie, which has a soulful, anonymous quality that will remind you, probably, of a toy from your own childhood. Winkie is voiced and manipulated by Nick Paglino, who also plays Clifford Chase; his performance is splendid and utterly central to the piece. Eight other actors play all of the many other characters in the play, with particular standouts being Erin Wheelock in a variety of roles, comic and tender, and Geraldine Johns as a nurse who befriends Winkie and is his only real friend during his struggle for freedom…if we’re too jaded to be jolted by the heightened reality presented here, we may have to look inside ourselves for the reason. We also need to listen hard to what Winkie and his former owner/alter ego Clifford Chase are trying to tell us.
The story quickly goes from amusingly eccentric to downright bizarre. Winkie is charged with 9,678 outlandish counts, including, not only terrorism and treason, but ‘impersonating a woman,’ ‘corrupting the youth of Athens,’ and ‘teaching evolution in the schools’…Nick Paglino, as both Chase and Winkie, and Geraldine Johns, as Francoise, bring a grounding element of emotional realism to the otherwise chaotic and absurd proceedings…the energetic cast and Joe Tantalo’s crisp direction keep the 90-minute play moving.
Thrillingly inventive and deeply moving to watch…Nick Paglino portrays both Winkie (giving voice and movement to the teddy bear that he holds in his hands) and Clifford, the man who owned Winkie as a child. Paglino gets at both the serious and intimately emotional core of the story through both characters…when the bear takes the witness stand in his own defense, Winkie finally gets a chance to tell his story to the world, and in Paglino’s hands, the soliloquy is brilliant…the audience sits in hushed awe, believing.
The result is an intriguing commentary on the way the media conspires with reactionary voices to shape the discourse of terrorism in this post-9/11 world.
The Godlight Theatre Company scored a winner with Clifford Chase’s Winkie.Playwright Matt Pelfrey cleverly constructs an irresistible, profound and inspirational adaptation that offers a stellar translation to Clifford Chase’s novel for members of the audience unfamiliar with the book...The 2011 theatre season is still unfolding, but this production is the best show I have seen so far.