Review: ‘Steaming’

Steaming (Ivy Substation; 99 seats; $ 18 top) Singular Prods. in association with Blazen Prods. presents a comedy in two acts by Nell Dunn. Directed by Mark Bringelson; set, Scott Storey; lighting, Ray Thompson; costumes, Tim Neuman; sound, Michael Cousins. Opened April 5, 1997. Reviewed April 26, 1997. Runs through May 24, 1997. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Dale Raoul (Violet), Jonathan Williams (Bill), Josie (Pat Destro), Marte Boyle Slout (Mrs. Meadows), Robyn Merrill (Dawn), Andrea Herz (Nancy), Gail Godown (Jane). British playwright Nell Dunn's feminist comedy, which premiered in London in 1980 and was a hit on Broadway in 1982, is revived in a solid production directed by Mark Bringelson and featuring a strong ensemble cast and a marvelous set designed by Scott Storey. However, even this fine production is unable to overcome some of the shortcomings of the script, which have become more apparent with time. Set in rundown Turkish Baths in working-class London, Dunn's play exhibits some of the excesses and clumsiness of feminist writings of the early 1980s. The regular male-bashing and idealized camaraderie that the women share gives the piece an often preachy and shallow tone. However, fine performances by the ensemble cast rescue the show from its didactic origins. The Earth Mother of the Baths is Violet (Dale Raoul), who dispenses wise counsel to her customers along with fluffy towels and hot tea. Her customers are an intentionally varied lot, drawn not exclusively from the working-class neighborhood but from the larger spectrum of British society. One longtime patron is Mrs. Meadows (Marte Boyle Slout), an autocratic British Mum who lords it over her hapless daughter Dawn (Robyn Merrill), who quite understandably suffers from a case of "nerves." Another denizen of the spa is Josie (Pat Destro), a flamboyant exotic dancer with no education but lots of street smarts. At the upper end of the social spectrum are Jane (Gail Godown), a single mother who has returned to university to study Islamic history, and her friend Nancy (Andrea Herz), a repressed upper-class wife who is clinging desperately to the anchor of her failing marriage.The script is written in the tradition of the bar play, in which the characters sit around and discuss the tribulations of their lives and how they ended up in this particular sanctuary. In other words, nothing much happens. While the lives of these characters hold some modest interest for the audience, they are not sufficiently fascinating or amusing to fill an entire evening. The slow spots in the script often are filled in this production by the characters dressing and undressing, which provides an initial novelty but isn't enough to carry the evening. While director Bringelson has expertly honed the performances into a fine ensemble piece, he has been unable to find the energy that originally propelled the play into prominence. In the first place, the world has changed a great deal since the early 1980s, when angry feminism provided a fresh, new perspective. However, the play's real message is an indictment of the British class system, the pain of which can never be fully appreciated by American audiences and is barely touched on in this production. As in most fine ensemble pieces, there are some standout performances. Destro's work is especially strong in conveying the specific, wrenching pain of her character, who struggles for some dignity in an unjust world. Raoul provides a lighter, more uplifting shade in her performance. And Herz is excellent in her understated portrayal of the quiet, stiff-upper-lip suffering of the privileged classes. AU: Hoyt Hilsman

Steaming (Ivy Substation; 99 seats; $ 18 top) Singular Prods. in association with Blazen Prods. presents a comedy in two acts by Nell Dunn. Directed by Mark Bringelson; set, Scott Storey; lighting, Ray Thompson; costumes, Tim Neuman; sound, Michael Cousins. Opened April 5, 1997. Reviewed April 26, 1997. Runs through May 24, 1997. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Dale Raoul (Violet), Jonathan Williams (Bill), Josie (Pat Destro), Marte Boyle Slout (Mrs. Meadows), Robyn Merrill (Dawn), Andrea Herz (Nancy), Gail Godown (Jane). British playwright Nell Dunn’s feminist comedy, which premiered in London in 1980 and was a hit on Broadway in 1982, is revived in a solid production directed by Mark Bringelson and featuring a strong ensemble cast and a marvelous set designed by Scott Storey. However, even this fine production is unable to overcome some of the shortcomings of the script, which have become more apparent with time. Set in rundown Turkish Baths in working-class London, Dunn’s play exhibits some of the excesses and clumsiness of feminist writings of the early 1980s. The regular male-bashing and idealized camaraderie that the women share gives the piece an often preachy and shallow tone. However, fine performances by the ensemble cast rescue the show from its didactic origins. The Earth Mother of the Baths is Violet (Dale Raoul), who dispenses wise counsel to her customers along with fluffy towels and hot tea. Her customers are an intentionally varied lot, drawn not exclusively from the working-class neighborhood but from the larger spectrum of British society. One longtime patron is Mrs. Meadows (Marte Boyle Slout), an autocratic British Mum who lords it over her hapless daughter Dawn (Robyn Merrill), who quite understandably suffers from a case of “nerves.” Another denizen of the spa is Josie (Pat Destro), a flamboyant exotic dancer with no education but lots of street smarts. At the upper end of the social spectrum are Jane (Gail Godown), a single mother who has returned to university to study Islamic history, and her friend Nancy (Andrea Herz), a repressed upper-class wife who is clinging desperately to the anchor of her failing marriage.The script is written in the tradition of the bar play, in which the characters sit around and discuss the tribulations of their lives and how they ended up in this particular sanctuary. In other words, nothing much happens. While the lives of these characters hold some modest interest for the audience, they are not sufficiently fascinating or amusing to fill an entire evening. The slow spots in the script often are filled in this production by the characters dressing and undressing, which provides an initial novelty but isn’t enough to carry the evening. While director Bringelson has expertly honed the performances into a fine ensemble piece, he has been unable to find the energy that originally propelled the play into prominence. In the first place, the world has changed a great deal since the early 1980s, when angry feminism provided a fresh, new perspective. However, the play’s real message is an indictment of the British class system, the pain of which can never be fully appreciated by American audiences and is barely touched on in this production. As in most fine ensemble pieces, there are some standout performances. Destro’s work is especially strong in conveying the specific, wrenching pain of her character, who struggles for some dignity in an unjust world. Raoul provides a lighter, more uplifting shade in her performance. And Herz is excellent in her understated portrayal of the quiet, stiff-upper-lip suffering of the privileged classes. AU: Hoyt Hilsman

Steaming

Ivy Substation; 99 seats; $18 top; Opened April 5, 1997. Reviewed April 26, 1997. Runs through May 24, 1997.

Production

Singular Prods. in association with Blazen Prods. presents a comedy in two acts by Nell Dunn. Directed by Mark Bringelson; set, Scott Storey.

Creative

Lighting, Ray Thompson; costumes, Tim Neuman; sound, Michael Cousins. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast

Cast: Dale Raoul (Violet), Jonathan Williams (Bill), Josie (Pat Destro), Marte Boyle Slout (Mrs. Meadows), Robyn Merrill (Dawn), Andrew Herz (Nancy), Gail Godown (Jane).
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