“The Visit” by contemporary Swiss playwright Friedrich Durenmatt is a comically macabre tale of betrayal, revenge and moral disintegration that served as a successful stage vehicle for Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (1958); and, later, a not so successful film outing for Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. It is a tantalizing but flawed work that ultimately fails in its attempt to prove that humans can be corrupted to perform any evil simply by the promise of wealth. This revival by the Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble in West L.A. doesn’t solve the inherent weaknesses of the play; it transcends them.
Set in a present-day Central European village, the play follows the evil machinations of billionaire Claire Zachanassian (Nancy Linehan Charles), who has returned to the home of her humble childhood to wreak the ultimate vengeance on shopkeeper Anton Schill (Richard Fancy), who, in their youth, had seduced and abandoned her. Her weapon of choice is the town itself, which must choose between her promise of unlimited wealth or the life of Schill.
Linehan Charles is a chilling visage as the crippled Claire, who has been more ravaged by her wealth than she ever was by the foibles of her youth. Hauntingly reminiscent of Bette Davis’ Regina (“The Little Foxes”), Charles’ Claire slices through the lives of the townsfolk with a razor-edged wit that displays no semblance of human frailty.
On the other side, Richard Fancy’s Schill personifies frailty. Every nuance of his ever-encroaching fate is reflected in his eyes and manner. As the town’s moral fiber slowly decays, Fancy magnificently travels the harrowing path of indignation, incredulity, fear and resignation.
Under Stephanie Shroyer’s brilliantly conceived staging in the round, the 23 -member ensemble surrounds Durenmatt’s spotty text with a tangible force. They don’t just play townspeople; they become the town, with all its childlike energy , simplistic expectations and threadbare pomp.
Special mention must be paid to William Dennis Hunt’s self-righteous, hypocritical Burgomaster and the dead-on portrayals of Howard Shangraw and Michael Rothhaar as the high-minded but morally impotent Pastor and Professor Mueller.
A true star of this production is musician/composer Tom Gerou. Much more reminiscent of a film score than incidental stage music, Gerou’s original compositions and virtuoso keyboard artistry underscores every emotional and dramatic level of the production.
Adding immeasurably to the successful realization of the town and its environment are designers Matthew C. Jacobs (set), Deena Lynn Mullen (lights), Clara Varnell (costumes) and Ruth Judkowitz (sound).