A seemingly random act of violence in the food court of a shopping mall results in a life-threatening head injury to the unsuspecting victim and a jail term for the perpetrator. But who else suffers as a result of the vicious attack, and what culpability do others have for their actions that somehow led up to the horrific event?
Those are among the ethical questions playwright Robert Hewett explores in “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead,” the powerfully acted and slickly directed season opener at Performance Network Theatre.
It’s a tough day for red-headed Rhonda Russell. First she gets a call from her husband, Graham, who unexpectedly announces that he’s leaving her. Then Lynette, the brunette next door neighbor, reveals that she saw Graham and “a blonde” in a rather compromising situation – and that she knows where the hussy works. So the two drive to Tanya’s jewelry business, where Lynette points her out walking in the mall. So the usually meek and mousy Rhonda jumps her from behind and savagely beats her. It’s at that point when a web of individuals and families with no prior connection to one another find their lives irrevocably intertwined and forever changed.
There’s far more to the story, of course. Hewett’s often funny and occasionally heart-wrenching script opens with the bare essentials – the basic who, what, when, where, why and how. But as each subsequent scene builds upon the previous, the playwright slyly doles out tasty tidbits of information that alternately shock you and tickle your funny bone. All the while, he reveals the all-too human frailties that can drive people to perform (or absolve themselves from) questionable or despicable acts.
What’s also intriguing is the play’s unusual structure: Each scene is a monologue delivered by one of the plot’s primary characters. What’s more, each of the seven roles – male or female, young or old – is played by Suzi Regan.
Regan, a highly respected veteran of the stage who directed a handful of shows at the Network’s Washington Street location, uses the script to teach a master class in character development. Each of her seven characters has a thoroughly unique voice and set of mannerisms – and her face miraculously reflects their correct ages. It’s an impressive accomplishment, and it ranks among her finest performances.
The show is kept visually stimulating by director David Wolber who moves Regan about the stage in harmony with the ebbs and flows of the plot. Also attention-getting are the scene changes, thanks to Daniel C. Walker’s back-lit set that allows the audience to watch Regan’s silhouette as she dons and doffs wigs and other accoutrements (including one very funny sight gag).
The only head-scratcher is the play’s final scene, which doesn’t make much sense – and has a revelation that’s never explained. If nothing else, it sure had opening night theatergoers talking up a storm!
‘The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead’
Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. Thursday through Sunday through Oct. 11. $25-$39. 734-663-0681. http://www.performancenetwork.org