By Kevin Christopher Snipes
Directed by David Lee
Starring Mark Brotherton, Bob Dolan, Ian Kramer, and Kevin Alonso
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL
What’s the point of higher education – adding more facts to your quiver, or learning about loyalty, bravery, and how to out maneuver a totalitarian regime? As war looms in 1939 loyalty out values deconstructing “To Be or Not To Be?” Young Nick Ross (Kramer) is running out of boarding schools. Exeter booted him, he’s too young for the Marines, so he’s packed away to Bennington where all the wealthy, artistic and hard to control kids end up. Not all is bleak; he immediately falls in with The Chimes, a cell of the Shakespeare geeks. They haven’t just read all the Histories, they can recite them line for line on cue. Forty years forward, and older yet wiser Nick (Brotherton) is back on campus to find some relic of lost youth. He falls in with the older and more alcoholic Gordon McAllister (Dolan) who has ditched his old nickname and now has a respectable job and a wife he keeps in a file cabinet somewhere. Back in ’39, Bennington casts its annual Shakespeare, and this time it’s Merchant of Venice. The boys are having an amazingly hard time learning their lines until headmaster Barrow (Tom Nowicki) appears to give direction that the comic relief drama teacher Carlyle (Trevin Cooper) misses – Shylock is a Jew, so portray him as an orangutan or be sent to the Russian Front. Marcus (Zachary Layner) rebels, young Nick follows his lead but fails, and after the makeup sex everything spins out of control. Even the last days of the Fuehrer Bunker weren’t so melodramatic.
Sure, everything seems really important when you’re in high school; that why parents adore boarding school – you’re out of the house and they can just pay someone to deal with your hormones. That Petri dish of childhood is the cradle of this recent graduate of the Playfest process, and this reprise of “The Chimes” mixes some seasoned Equity actors with some very promising UCF students. Tom Nowicki as headmaster Barrow chilled me, and while there was certainly Nazi sympathy in the US in a 1939, his subversive portrayal was particularly evil. The lost pair of lonely old men (Brotherton and Dolan) hope to find enough friends to attend their funerals yet still seems stuck in their salad days and they never did get the hang of dealing with women. Professor Carlyle filled the comic relief slot and he was as despised by his fellows as Young McAllister was by his. The younger actors were dominate by Vivian, his Oscar Wilde-like deliver was almost-but-not-quite-too precocious for a student of his years, but we all hoped he would show us his pet lobster. Despite their rock solid portrayal of students seeking their way in life, neither Neil nor Marcus were convincing as a couple, but I give high marks to Young McAllister as the put-upon fat kid who only blinked once but lives with that guilt for the rest of his career.
Adolescence holds no attraction for me, but it’s a fetish for some. In “The Chimes,” we see the past as a mix of pleasure and pain, but pain that can deflect the rest of your life. Memories are nasty business, but we all have them and sometimes they are all we have. We applaud loyalty, but only to the point it reinforces our agenda. These boys all aimed for loyalty, but it wasn’t enough to keep them alive through the war or stable through adult life. You are up there on that stage somewhere. Be brave, point to yourself. Its dark, no one will see you.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu