There’s more to Robert Hewett’s one-person show, “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead,” than just a tantalizing title. While its name suggests a light-hearted comic mystery, this engaging play plumbs some depths as it provides seven different perspectives on a horrifying crime and its impact on those most directly effected. In the process, it reminds the audience of the difficulty of ever truly knowing those closest to us or the real story about things happening around us.
But the play is mostly a wonderful showcase for the actress playing all seven roles. The show began life in 2004 in Hewett’s native Australia, and, after exposure at last summer’s Stratford Festival, is now making its way into U.S. theaters with an American premiere at Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theater and a production opening almost simultaneously at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Diving into the multi-faceted roles in the Florida staging, Sharon Scruggs, who shifted from acting to directing about five years ago, returns to the stage in a vibrant, varied, funny and poignant performance — or should that be performances? She plays seven women and men, each of whom has a profoundly different point of view of the central crime, a physical attack by the eponymous redhead against a supposed rival.
That redhead is Rhonda Russell, a middle-aged woman feeling abandoned by her husband and ready for vengeance in a rare moment when she loses control. Hewett prefers to keep the story and characters under wraps, but it’s safe to say auds will feel a lot differently about Rhonda (for better and worse) after hearing from some of the other characters. Those include sultry blonde Tanya, a Russian jewelry seller, and scheming brunette Lynette, Rhonda’s best friend and neighbor.
Between scenes, Scruggs changes costumes in full view of the audience (with help from a couple of assistants), which might seem distracting. But the actress imbues so much detail in each role — along with the expected change of voice, stance and mannerisms — that one soon forgets the same person is playing every part.
Clint Ramos’ costumes, which include padded shirts to fatten Scruggs’ belly, and the impressive wig design by Michelle Hart transform the actress so completely that even her face looks entirely different in some scenes.
Director Melissa Kievman heightens the theatrical nature of the piece with the visible costume-changes and the engaging way Ramos’ white-walled sets are moved around to shift from a jail cell to a shopping mall to a hospital, with well-placed projections by Dan Scully.
One-person shows can wear out their welcome long before the final curtain, but Hewett has written a script full of detailed description of events and individual characters, allowing Scruggs to draw the audience in and hold them for the duration.