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“The Visit” A Ghoulishly Comic Tragedy at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Special for Alexandria Times
Jordan Wright
Monday, October 25th 2010

Lloyd Bittinger (Conductor, background), Erik Harrison (Husband), Margaret Bush (Claire), Bernard Engel (Mayor, behind Margaret), James Ginther (Priest), Robert King (Teacher) Photography: Doug Olmsted

Lloyd Bittinger (Conductor, background), Erik Harrison (Husband), Margaret Bush (Claire), Bernard Engel (Mayor, behind Margaret), James Ginther (Priest), Robert King (Teacher) Photography: Doug Olmsted

“The Visit” opens on a scene remarkable for its drabness. The decaying town of Gullen, German for “manure”, is awash in Dickensian poverty. Buildings are crumbling and its coffers are empty. The entire town is on the dole…its starving citizenry collectively points the finger of blame at everything from communism to a freemason’s plot.

Yet they soon unite around an impending visit from a beautiful yet imperious billionairess known for her largesse. Enter Claire Zachanassian, commandingly played with stunning vitriol by Margaret Bush, who continues to endear local audiences with her stellar performances. As the story unfolds Claire is returning to her childhood home on a quite different mission…to seek revenge. And it is a dish best served cold…very, very cold.

The village, with the mayor at its helm, appoints her childhood sweetheart, Anton Schill, to coax the grande dame into parting with some of her loot. Bernard Engel plays the manipulative mayor with great aplomb, corralling its townsfolk with promises of a prosperous life through Claire’s generosity. Conversely, Anton, slated to become the town’s next mayor, is an altruistic gentleman who runs the local general store. His popularity among his customers is notable and enhanced by allowing them their purchases on credit.

Left to Right (Balcony)  Megan Murphy (Announcer), Erik Harrison (Announcer), Kristi Faye (Reporter)  Left to Right; Back to Front (stage)  Bernard Engel (Mayor), Rebecca Fischler (Doctor), Lori Brooks (Person of Gullen), Bret Alexander (Person of Gullen), Kea Allis (Person of Gullen), Robert King (Teacher)  Photography: Doug Olmsted

Left to Right (Balcony) Megan Murphy (Announcer), Erik Harrison (Announcer), Kristi Faye (Reporter) Left to Right; Back to Front (stage) Bernard Engel (Mayor), Rebecca Fischler (Doctor), Lori Brooks (Person of Gullen), Bret Alexander (Person of Gullen), Kea Allis (Person of Gullen), Robert King (Teacher) Photography: Doug Olmsted

The maudlin and very married Anton is portrayed by Steve Lada, who serves as the perfect foil for Claire’s chilling vixen. He regales Claire with hazy remembrances of their youthful romancing, but she sets him straight and the bizarre plot twists and turns with a collection of characters that would give Charles Addams a run for his money. But Director William Parker keeps the interactions on track in this complex play riddled with the ghosts of the past.

Teddy Gron in the role of Claire’s butler Boby, is remarkable for his ability to exhude Sturm und Drang and arched eyebrow at all the salient moments.

Erik Harrison, a veritable newcomer to the local theatre scene, plays Claire’s three latest husbands and segues seamlessly into his different identities.

And look for Robert King, playing it very close to the vest as the Teacher, who emerges from the morass of injustice by Gullen’s citizens to erupt in a sea of rectitude and emotion near the play’s end.

Written in 1956 playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit” was initially adapted for American audiences by Maurice Valency. It had its first Broadway incarnation in 1958 and was directed at that time by Peter Brook starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The cautionary tale continues to enjoy popularity both in Germany and in the States.

At the Little Theatre of Alexandria from October 23rd till November 13th. For tickets and information call 703 683-0496 or go to www.LittleTheatre.com

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