Entertainment » Theatre

Silence

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Dec 15, 2010
Madeline Schulman stars in Silence, continuing through Dec. 18 at the Elizabeth Peabody House in Somerville
Madeline Schulman stars in Silence, continuing through Dec. 18 at the Elizabeth Peabody House in Somerville  (Source:GAN-e-meed Theatre Project)

Silence is a mediaeval tale full of disguises, deceptions, mad passions, festering hatreds, rape, and madness. And you thought The Pillars of the Earth was a potboiler.

But this play, written by Moira Buffini and produced by the GAN-e-meed Theatre Project, is ingrained with nagging questions that are both philosophical and practical in nature. Is the nature of evil truly Evil--or could it, from another perspective, be seen as good? Is God ever to be comprehended by human minds and mores, or must we forever content ourselves with stories that express a yearning for atonement and fall far short of the mark? Does the love of an admirer--especially mad, passionate love--bind a person against her will? Can we truly be spiritual if we eschew the sexual?

The story begins with the exile of Ymma (Erin Scanlon), an angry, sharp-tongued woman, from Normandy to England and the castle of King Ethelred (Scott Sweatt). The king lies ensconced in his bed all day, sleeping and wrestling with his problems. Though Ymma has been sent away to marry a 14-year-old nobleman named Silence (Madeline Schulman) as a punishment by her brother, the king comes a desire to reward her with the queenship--that is to say, he wishes to claim her for himself, Ymma's arranged marriage notwithstanding.

Ymma and Silence flee for Silence's distant home provinces, in the far reaches of the land, where English Christianity give way to the Norse theology of the Vikings. But Ymma's fire and spite have awoken the king from his slumber and taught him that a king--as the divine instrument of God's will on Earth--wields power best when he exercises terror.

Ethelred's best friend is a warrior named Eadric (Terrence P. Haddad), who has been assigned the task of guiding Silence and Ymma back to the provinces, but the king--enraged at Ymma's spurning--gives chase, sacking and killing all along the way. Ethelred and his army make better time than Ymma's party--which also includes Ymma's maid Agnes (Molly Haas-Hooven) and a fearful priest named Roger (Marc Harpin) who swoons with alarm at the sight of open sky, or at any stirring of his own much-reviled lust--because the group's dynamics are fraught with tension to the point of incipient violence and chaos.

Eadric is just as smitten with Ymma as the king is; Ymma has no interest, declaring herself utterly devoted to Silence. But Silence, like Ethelred, has also awoken to unsuspected facts concerning his existence, and finds himself pining for someone other than his new wife. Meantime, Roger and Agnes buck the trend of missed love connections, falling for one another; but will their respective duties to church and to nobility prevent them from sealing their union?

The play pits Christianity's fearful repression of human sexuality against a pagan sexual pride and virility: Silence may be barely pubescent, but he's full of swagger and courage. The play balances comedy with rumination, and outrageous episodes (magic mushrooms for dinner, anyone?) with a formality of construction that makes for solid theater.

GAN-e-meed, working with a shoestring, pulls off a production that is rich with imagination and talent. Haddad alternates between wounded-eyed despair and brute physical domination; Sweatt is perfectly mad as the king; the object of their shared lust, Ymma, is portrayed by Scanlon as a fury, unstoppable and raging, but driven by a terrifying psychological and emotional injury. The costuming (by Emily Woods-Hogue) and direction (by SerahRose Roth), together with emily McCourt's lighting and the sound design by GIllian Moon, create a sense of the time and the place (an era in which people, especially women, are the property of the institutions that rule over the world) authentic enough for the play's characters to buck against their fates.

Buffini is having fun with this play, which won her the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 1999, but she's not poking fun; rather, she has some serious themes to explore. This production successfully realizes the comic and dramatic aspects of Silence, delivering a neatly told tale right along with the lingering questions we're supposed to take home with us.

Silence continues through Dec. 18 at the Elizabeth Peabody House, located at 277 Broadway in Somerville, 02145.

Tickets cost $20 general admission. Students and seniors pay $15; valid ID required. Tickets may be obtained online at www.ganemeed.org/box-office or purchased at the door (cash only).

Performance schedule: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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