The first act of David Greig's "Pyrenees," while a trifle slow and a bit overlong, looks like it's going to be a compelling exploration of the mysteries of identity. Director Neel Keller stages this drama with a serene calm, creating a meditative mood that the exceptional cast responds to with perfs of subtle perception and emotion.
The first act of David Greig’s “Pyrenees,” while a trifle slow and a bit overlong, looks like it’s going to be a compelling exploration of the mysteries of identity. Director Neel Keller stages this drama with a serene calm, leaving enough room for the characters to pause and think before they speak, creating a meditative mood that the exceptional cast responds to with perfs of subtle perception and emotion. Unfortunately, act two resolves questions heretofore raised in unbelievable ways, turning what had been intriguing into silliness. Thus, this American premiere of the piece at the Kirk Douglas Theater is a fine production of an ultimately disappointing play.
As the story begins, British consular worker Anna (Tessa Thompson) is meeting an unusual client at a hotel in the French Pyrenees. The Man (Tom Irwin) was found in the snow, barely alive, and now he claims to have amnesia. Anna and the Man try to puzzle out his provenance, interrupted periodically by the capricious Proprietor (Jan Triska). The two become attracted to each other, but the sudden appearance of the hotel’s only other guest, Vivienne (Frances Conroy), forces them to re-evaluate the entire situation.
Thompson makes her character work through sheer talent, bringing a sense of conviviality and grace to the proceedings. She’s a fine young actress, but a couple of things get in her way. Her British accent seems so ephemeral as to not exist at all, but, more importantly, the role as written is simply unconvincing. Conroy is also enough of a professional to keep the show going through her skill as a performer, but she faces the exact same obstacles as Thompson, and her role is so implausible as to beggar belief.
Irwin exudes an intellectual charm underlaid with violent emotion as the Man, and he manages to make the audience care about the amnesiac’s unique dilemma. He exists onstage as an enthusiastic enigma. Triska, however, steals the show as the Proprietor, alternating over-friendliness with abrupt rude formality. The character may not seem realistic, but he is highly entertaining. Triska gets the most from every word he utters in a hilarious perf.
Mark Wendland’s impressive set, a terrace with empty space below and a series of hanging lights above, a backdrop of mountains, and one spiral staircase rising through it all, adds immeasurably to the production, although at times it seems as though it’s the letterboxed version of the show.
Geoff Korf’s gorgeous lighting adds to the tangible sense of place, from misty bright sunlight to red-orange sunset. In particular, one moment when the deep violet of the nighttime sky paints the stage blue, it seems as though the characters are perched on a surreal precipice, creating more drama and evocative otherworldliness than the rest of the play combined.