“Phaedre” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 15, 2010


Nearly Naked Theatre, The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Something bad happened to Nearly Naked Theatre’s world premiere adaptation of the classic “Phaedre” tale. Last spring, in a workshop production, Damon Dering’s script had potential. There were things that needed fixing including a story that drifted aimlessly back and forth between the ancient past, when the tale was originally set, and the present. The promise last spring was that a revised version that learned from the workshop would be part of this year’s Nearly Naked season. The retooled “Phaedre” is a disaster.

What’s wrong? Most significantly, it’s the script. The awkward dialogue sounds pretentious and pompous. Use of polysyllable words ruins the piece. Clean, simple, and easily understood dialogue would be more effective. The drifting back and forth in time hasn’t been clarified; it’s actually been intensified without any apparent reasoning or justification except that it causes audience wonder about why it happens. If the point is to say the ancient legend about the title character’s love infatuation with her step son has ramifications for our current times, it seems heavy-handed.

Dering adapted Racine’s treatment of the legend but he added Gods missing from Racine’s version. The Gods tend to intensify the legend as being in the past and don’t help make it relevant to the present. Dering adds nudity to make this a very adult retelling of the tale. Dering’s staging pokes along giving little life, energy, or zing to the plot.

With some of the same cast as the workshop but other new casting, the latest ensemble isn’t as good. Many of the actors get tongue-tied constantly at the overly pretentious dialogue. The acting is often stilted and unnatural except in the few comedy scenes where the actors are better than in the classical scenes. Finally, the production is now more elaborate and this just drags this version down because of its artificiality.

Christi Sweeney’s ancient take on Phaedre is the most disappointing performance. The legend is that Theseus marries a young, voluptuous woman so her infatuation with her husband’s son, Hippolytus, makes sense. Sweeney’s too old and her artificial acting is awkward and unconvincing. David Weiss’ Theseus is more believable. His jealousy of his wife and detest of his son is well placed. Chris Matesevac’s Hippolytus is more natural and believable in the funny sequences. The rest of the cast struggles with the play’s awkward and unnatural language and none seem comfortable in their assigned roles.

“Phaedre” had potential as a workshop but the “improvements” further confuse the production turning it into a dull treatment of the famous tale. “Phaedre” continues through March 27. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.nearlynakedtheatre.org.

Grade: D