A Fountain of Words: CUP’s Dirty Hands
Written by Bwog Staff
Every play ever produced has been showing this weekend and last. Bwog’s Anish Bramhandkar checks out the latest offering from the CU Players, Dirty Hands.
There’s no way around it. Dirty Hands, Jean-Paul Sartre’s post-war political drama, is very long. At the end of the two-and-a-half hour play, you’ve enjoyed yourself but find yourself wishing that translator Lionel Abel had the foresight to write an abbreviated version.
In a fictional country allied with Nazi Germany, Hugo (Sam Johnson, CC ’11), a young Communist, is reluctantly chosen by the party to assassinate a political leader, Hoederer (Arron Seams, CC ’13), whose actions make him a “class traitor.” Hugo and his wife, Jessica (Jenny Vallancourt, BC ’11), move in with Hoederer so that Hugo may work as his secretary and kill him. As an educated man of ideals and principles, Hugo finds it difficult to follow through, though he is egged on by his wife, who treats the entire affair as if it were merely a role-playing game.
And it was this notion of a game that kept the audience’s attention. Jenny Vallancourt’s lively, uninhibited character enraptured the audience from her first appearance. Unlike her fellow actors, Vallancourt’s character was completely at ease in this dark world. Every phrase she uttered resonated with delicious, conflicting layers of meaning. It was the women of this play that held scenes together. Jenny’s delightful fickleness contrasted so beautifully with Olga’s (Madalena Provo, BC ’12) somber concern and Louis’ (Anya Whelan-Smith, BC ’13) swaggering bravado that scenes without either of them floated, unfocused and disconnected.
Johnson and Seams strained somewhat to fill out their characters, erring on the edge of endless repetition. Seams’ Hoederer was so devoid of emotion that he was flat and dull, even failing to be enlivened by Vallancourt’s devious come-ons. He recovered somewhat after intermission, finally cracking a smile and allowing a glimpse of humanity to shine out of his soul. Johnson’s Hugo ought to have been the focal point of the play, for it is his internal conflict that allows the work’s “psychological thriller” descriptor. However, he seemed so keen on delivering his words (and trust us, there are many of them) that he failed to shape his character. His eyebrows forever quirked, his voice never lent gravity to his thoughts, not even to pause for effect between sentences.
The production worked marvelously within the given constraints. Due to a busy production season, it was staged in the Wien Lounge, with black curtains outlining a backdrop and harsh work lights putting characters into the spot light. The actors deserve a hand for not allowing the lobby’s ruckus and students passing through the overlooking balconies to break their concentration.
Some audience members were yawning and wishing for a fast-forward button during the final stretch and they laughed instead of gasping during the dramatic climax, but you should come to see Jenny Vallancourt wheedle and pine for attention, and to see theatre that seems much less selfish when staged on the ground floor of a residence hall.
Dirty Hands is a production of the CU Players. It has additional performances Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 PM in the Wien Lounge. Tickets are free and are available at the Lerner box office.
Photos courtesy of Ajit Pillai for CU Players