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'Silence' - A Review

By Tom Sime, KERA 90.1 arts commentator

Dallas, TX – "Silence" is anything but. The play at Undermain Theatre is overflowing with delightfully witty dialogue, delivered by a top-flight cast in this first Texas production of a work by rising British playwright Moira Buffini.

The play is set in the year 1000 A.D., when, just as at the last millennium, everybody thinks the world is "on the brink of destruction." England is overrun with Viking invaders who stage brutal periodic raids in the north. King Ethelred the Unready, hilarious as played by Bruce DuBose, is in no condition to fight off the enemy. He's taken to his bed, as if internalizing the futile miseries of his nation.

But then a French prince sends his disgraced sister, Princess Ymma, to England to punish her for a mysterious crime. And Ymma, played by Alison Darby, does consider exile in the British Isles a cruel sentence. Seeing the chance to pull off a diplomatic victory, Ethelred decides to marry her off to a Viking lord as a gesture of appeasement. When she sees her prospective bridegroom, however, Ymma is shocked to discover that Lord Silence of Cumbria is a boy of 14, convincingly played by Suzanne Thomas.

But things take a surprising turn when Ymma and Silence take a shine to each other. And a dangerous turn when the king decides he should have married Ymma himself. Here he tries to convince her to go along with his revised plan for her future. Once Ymma has rebuffed the king, her life is in danger, and she goes on the lam, turning Silence into the story of a road trip.

Ymma flees with her perpetually dissatisfied servant Agn s, played by Rhonda Boutt ; a priest named Roger who's supposed to be coaching Silence in Christianity, played by David Stroh; and a knight, played by Todd Haberkorn, who's supposed to be protecting Ymma but is actually in love with her and plans to kill Silence to clear the way. The play cleverly merges modern and medieval sensibilities for rich comic effect-as in a scene where everyone unwittingly ingests magic mushrooms and the truth starts pouring forth.

But its sorrowful elements are sharply rendered, too. Those scared off by Undermain's more experimental work ought to love this one, a model of clarity and straightforwardness as directed by Katherine Owens.

"Silence" does suffer from the talking-to-the-audience syndrome that afflicts so many contemporary playwrights, however. Characters are constantly turning to us to explain what's going on when it's already obvious. They'll be sitting in carriage formation, bouncing rhythmically up and down as if on bumps in the road with someone in front holding imaginary reins-a lovely and instantly evocative theatrical image. Then someone helpfully breaks character to tell us that they're riding in a horse cart. Well, duh. Given her play's general sophistication and clarity, there' s no need for Buffini to do any such underlining.

 

Tom Sime writes for The Dallas Morning News. "Silence" runs at Undermain Theatre's basement performance space through November 9th.