Review by Bella Wellstead
Langley – a nervy, young pianist with a fixation on tempo and a penchant for collecting. Homer – his older brother, a former lawyer who halted his career to care for the peculiar musician. Milly – a boisterous young woman with significant wealth and a determination to woo the elusive Langley. The Dazzle explores the relationships between this odd trio, engulfed and entrapped as they are in a New York apartment.
Cheery yellow wallpaper wraps around a cluttered living-dining space. Small, framed paintings and pencil sketches dapple the walls shyly and a clean, white fireplace protrudes from opposite the audience. Atop it, a line of books, knick knacks, and an unlit oil lamp.
The square dining table is draped in a wrinkled, white tablecloth and surrounded by three wooden chairs. Oriental rugs layered on top of one-another and a red velvet couch allude to the brothers’ inherited wealth.
An upright piano stands proud at stage right, three meticulously ordered and unopened scores lying flat above the keys. Behind the piano – although barely visible to the audience – sits an assembly of discarded books, waste papers, and general miscellanea. When Langley enters and takes a seat at the piano bench, it is clear that this corner of the room – in all its clutter and chaos – is his domain. Set designer Aloma Barns and lighting designer Catherine Mai work together brilliantly. They establish warmth and comfort in the cluttered apartment that Homer and Langley call their home.
Barns’ costume design is also magnificent. The eccentric and sensitive Langley dons a plain black suit. Its simple silhouette allows him to move freely as he plays the piano, yet retains an elegance befitting a virtuoso. Homer – in all his vehemence and empathy – is clad in a brown suit. The earthy shade diminishes his substantial frame, making him approachable and allegorising his ever-softening demeanour. The radiant Milly wears a sparkling, beaded dress that drips wealth and liveliness. The garment bares her shoulders and emphasises her figure, positioning her as a proponent of sensuality and sexual freedom. Irrespective of their depth of characterisation, Barns’ costumes are – put simply – a visual delight.
Direction by Jane Angharad is thoughtful and sympathetic. Alec Ebert’s Langley has the delicate sensitivity of a small bird. His idle absentmindedness and vocal insistence frame him neatly as a troubled and sheltered genius. As the show progresses, Langley’s eccentricities increase, and Ebert’s performance becomes achingly frantic. Steve Corner’s portrayal of Homer also transforms throughout the play. His standoffish protectiveness melts gracefully into joviality and then into tragic resignation. Despite the empathy that he affects, Homer is a cunning character – an attribute which Corner plays with wily composure.
Meg Hyeronimus is a standout, infusing the character of Milly with intelligence and defiance. Her skilful upper-class accent situates her as a woman with great wealth and style. Her movements glisten with confidence and spirit. Wry grins accompany her quick wit. She manages her youthful lust with both cheeky vigour and bureaucratic prowess. She also handles a mid-show tone change expertly, settling into the aged and troubled woman that Milly becomes.
Towards the end of the show, the story is lost as a sequence of traumas plague the once-vibrant trio. Largely occurring offstage, these experiences and ailments are described to the audience in the manner of a big reveal. Having several reveals introduced and concluded in quick succession is jarring, and obstructs empathetic engagement. It is as though playwright Richard Greenberg wanted to subject his characters to a level of despair that he ran out of time to execute. This is particularly bizarre considering the riotous comedy that asserts itself at the beginning of the show.
Despite this, The Dazzle is definitely worth watching. The design and the performances do, indeed, dazzle. They leave the audience to wander from Meraki Arts Bar, wondering at theatre’s capacity to transform and transport.