There is something so peculiar and, yes, charming (they would probably hate that word, but too bad) about Clubbed Thumb. It is not actually a rep company, but a company in spirit. And that spirit is theater that is engaging and raw. Just my cuppa tea, thank you very much.
As with their earlier production, Amazons and Their Men, Vendetta Chrome has a small cast that makes you believe they are large in number. The play opens in 1890 in a girls' school, where the students convene, hike up their skirts and – dare I say it? – play basketball. It is a forbidden activity, of course, all this running and thumping about with no care for propriety, all taking place in a dungeon where the basket is really a basket and the ball has seen better days. In the first, fine scene, we learn who is in charge, who is the runt of the litter, who is flirting with whom, and just how far tempers can go when boundaries are crossed.
The girls are not supposed to be playing ball. They are supposed to be studying their lessons in poetic recitation and Delsarte Drill (the gestures found in melodrama – Accusation, Horror, Submission, et al). Their drill instructor is the evil Bessie Bosworth, who has, egad, a few secrets of her own tucked up her very long sleeve. Bosworth is a maniacal woman who has no patience, praise, or time for anything not directly within her control. In the end, she becomes the victim of her own shortsightedness, with the help of a woman who may or may not be real. Who cares? It all works out.
It is a little like The Lady In White, Andrew Lloyd Webber's short-lived production brought to New York a few years back, except that this production knows where it's going. It's melodrama, farce, vaudeville, and myth all wrapped up in one untidy production. The untidiness only adds to the excitement. This is not a company that wants to press your trousers. They want to grab you by the ears and twirl you around the floor a few times.
Because it is a company loved by actors, and because the play is part of a trilogy, you will be sitting with a noisy and appreciative crowd. The only downside of that is that occasionally the cheers are more for the sheer effort an actor demonstrates than for the quality of the performance. There are grimaces here that would stop a tugboat mid-river. The audience finds them hilarious, which is too bad for the actor. There are also crisp and clever moments, sweet and heartbreaking sentiments, and some ridiculously clever staging. You might get confused every so often, but you will not be bored, I promise. These are fine actors, and they take good care.
Clubbed Thumb doth not a smooth and placid production make. Good on them.
Vendetta Chrome – by Sally Oswald, directed by Alice Poledouris
With: Lisa Rafaela Clair, Tracee Chimo, Ginger Eckert, Rebecca Hart, Jeanine Serralles, Jenny Seastone Stern, Caroliine Tamas, Arian Venturi, Sam Breslin Wright
Set: Jason Simms, Costumes: Jessica Pabst, Lights: Gina Scherr
Produced by Clubbed Thumb Summerworks 2008, through June 21 only! For tickets: 212-802-8007 or Clubbed Thumb online.