G.K. Chesterton was an English writer much read by my parents' and grandparents' generations, and consequently by my younger self, but who has fallen into obscurity. However, playwright Neal Bell's adaption of Chesterton's send-up of the eternal battle between order and chaos should put him back on the radar. The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern is currently presenting The Man Who Was Thursday as the last theatrical hurrah at 539 Muze, a commercial space converted to a black box theater earlier this year, but now slated for demolition as Durham's warehouse district continues its rapid makeover.
It's an excellent play for director Jay O'Berski, who has a deep fondness for the idea of anarchy, even as he creates orderly frameworks in which to toy with the concept. He also prefers, whenever possible, to cock a snoot at conventions, especially those of gender and race. This Edwardian melo-mystery is populated almost entirely by males, yet all the actors in this production are women.
Women in drag is hardly new or shocking ... but women in full beards or luxuriant moustaches still surprises. (Actually, this much facial hair on anyone would surprise.) The cast, led by Dana Marks as Gabriel Syme, the poet-turned-policeman who infiltrates an anarchist cell, is flawless in her crossover. From her top hat to her boots, she is complete in every detail, and her male persona is highly convincing in voice, gesture and swagger. The same is true for Laurie Wolf, who wears her suits and her moustaches with dapper aplomb. Tamara Kissane, Caitlin Wells and Susannah Hough are highly credible and the remainder of the cast nearly as strong.
As delightful as the actors are, the set and props nearly upstage them. Designed by Laura Bilski and "Sir Lionel Mouse," and built and painted by a small army of volunteers, the set is fabulous, rather like a seaside Punch and Judy show made large—with a puppet theater within. The puppets, designed by Laura Bilski, Doreen Jakob and Marlyn Wells, cunningly resemble the characters and take their places in some scenes. There are also some other puppetry items, which I won't give away—but they made me laugh out loud.
The ambiance is completed by yet another smart lighting design by Steve Tell and a very good sound score, including original music, by Adam Lindquist. The play's silly story sometimes gets confusing, but no matter. The forces of good theater win out in the end.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fantastic journeys."