Did I mention talent?
Because it’s true that the datedness of a text such as this, set in the 1970s, is wont to mean an amount of disengagement with its unfolding on a current stage. And yet, as with many things that are fiction(al) to us, there is the task of falling head first into an unfamiliar story’s telling, and finding that it can be absolutely enjoyable.The cast of ‘No Way To Treat A Lady’ reminds us that sometimes five is enough.
This is what watching “No Way To Treat A Lady” is like. You are skeptical at first, if only because you realize that the age of the text is showing. And then you are faced with a cast and a staging so compact and so succinct that you are carried away, and you feel your jadedness melting away on Christopher “Kit” Gill’s first dance steps, and Detective Morris Brummel’s adorable discomfiture with girls.
And then there’s the fact of this staging’s playfulness, its decision to see the comedy through to its sadness, if not its heart.
I haven’t even mentioned that this musical’s about a serial killer.
Complexity in simplicity
Which seems simple enough doesn’t it? We know how stories like this one end, and there is no surprise here really, other than the lengths to which the text will go for laughter. And while this is about swift storytelling and a cast that can only be forced to run across that stage, it is also about a set of characters that are neither one-dimensional nor stereotypical.
Audie Gemora’s Kit Gill is stuff for nightmares.
The serial killer Kit (Audie Gemora) is all about the desire to be praised by his dead mother (Pinky Marquez). This desire is intertwined with the task itself of murdering the women that are his prey. It is complex because it is both about wanting approval from the dead—no matter that it’s all in his head—as it is about revenge for years of being a neglected child. As counterpoint, Morris (Joel Trinidad) is everything that Kit isn’t, including being the detective who is out to get the serial killer.
Morris struggles as son, living with a mother (Sheila Francisco) who by all counts is a nightmare, comparing sons against each other, putting down the job that Morris keeps. She is emotional and overwhelmingly motherly, and the son stays because he also struggles between the comforts of being cared for at home, to actually being free and independent.
Between these two men are the women, the ones who Kit kills and are therefore nothing but corpses when Morris gets to them, and the one called Sarah Stone (Carla Guevara-Laforteza)—independent woman of the 70s, living alone and keeping a well-enough paying job. She is wont to fall in love with the wrong men, and is tired of it when she comes across Morris, who by all counts isn’t her type. Yet somehow she finds it attractive, whatever stability Morris’s character offers.
But it would be the wrong time for love, seeing as Morris was out to capture Kit, and Kit was one to be a stalker. And along with a mother’s horrid coddling, the situation is one that is fodder for comedy unlike any we see these days. That is, just fun and downright funny, no matter the text’s setting.
The production that could
Which is to say the production that could take this work set in the 1970s and recreate it for audiences in the year 2013, and make it worth our time. Because the production here is far larger than we imagine it could be, given set design and lighting, given the performances here, of course.
Creating a backdrop of stairs is not new for a Repertory production, but in this case it works as a way of establishing proximity between detective and killer, where Morris might in the end find each one of Kit’s victims, but ultimately is never hot on the killer’s trail, failing to walk the path he does. Kit walks up and down those stairs like no one else does, and his home high up on that maze of stairs speaks of the inability to figure him out, if not the fact that the premise of his whole existence is both approval from the dead and an amount of fame to be brought by being in the papers—that is, immortality.
Along with those stairs were two doors on wheels, making its way from one end of the stage to another, and becoming not just about entrances and exits, as they were about leaving and staying, if not about dreaming. Because what is crucial to both the characters of Morris and Kit is the common goal of doing well, of doing better, and ultimately having better relationships with the women in their lives—never mind that in the case of Kit the woman is dead.
It is also this set that allows for the swiftness of this narrative to be a fascinating display of a cast’s nimbleness, navigating the fast-paced narrative with nary hesitation. And I don’t mean that they were gracelessly running across that stage, as they were in fact working from choreography and blocking that worked perfectly with their characters—if not the other characters that Kit needed to become in order to get to his prey. Here the production would also be about the live music that didn’t miss a beat, as it would be about costumes that were believable even when they were period, as it would, ultimately, be about lighting that worked perfectly with the various voices that were here, all evolving and thinking at the same time, but highlighted on that stage distinctly even as they were in fact intertwined.
Five actors are enough
What “No Way To Treat A Lady” proves is that sometimes all a production needs is a set of five actors and actresses who can do theater like no one else can.
And I mean Marquez, as every woman that Kit kills, and the mother he so cherishes. Marquez is not the thinnest of women her age you will see onstage, and isn’t as quick on her feet as you’d want her to be, but she sure delivers the comedy and the singing that her multiple characters need. I still cannot imagine her as the lead in “The Graduate” though, and that might need more than any of the things she did in this musical.
Shiela Francisco and Joel Trinidad make the best of mother-son tandems.
Francisco as the mother has comedic timing that is perfect, her old lady loud and stifling, but ultimately believable even as an archetype for these times. Guevara-Laforteza is finally given something she can sink her teeth into as a “normal” character, which is to say not some character from Charlie Brown’s world that sings in a painfully nasal child’s voice. Here Sarah’s wonderfully smart and believable, taking every bull by the horns, including love or the something like it that Morris can offer. And her singing voice is beautiful, doing vulnerability like no one else I’ve heard on stage in some time. Might I suggest she do those roles that Nikki Gil does? If not that one that Vina Morales did for “Rock of Ages.”
Trinidad’s Morris is a combination of both stability and uncertainty, where his job is his identity, as his personal life is his undoing. The task here is to create a Morris who is both brave detective and wide-eyed nervous man-in-love, and Trinidad is exactly that if not more, with some comedic timing to boot, not to mention a singing voice that will ultimately make you swoon. He can only be reason enough to see this production.
And then there is Gemora as Kit, and all the other characters he becomes to kill the different women he preys on. There is his dancing and singing and comedy, but it is in those moments when Kit is speaking to his mother, and when he is imagining fame, that Gemora outdoes himself. When he is not moving on that stage is when you realize that for the best of our actors, the murderous glint in the eye can cut across that theater. It can also be the stuff for nightmares.
This cast, and everything else that is put on that stage, is every reason to see “No Way To Treat A Lady.” Granted it is a story set in the 70s, but if you can get lost in fiction so many times removed from us, then right here is comedy and music to be had, a reminder that theater can cut across the years, that it can be all fictional and enjoyable. In this case it’s also a reminder of how while the musicals of Rep might seem smaller than the Atlantis and 9Works productions, what they can have over these is their control and precision and simplicity.
Sometimes that is the best way to treat an audience.
“No Way To Treat A Lady” is directed by Audie Gemora for Repertory Philippines, with the original book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen. Set design is by Mio Infante, costume design by Raven Ong, musical direction by Dingdong Fiel, and lighting design by John Batalla. It runs until the weekend of March 22-24, 2013.
This was previously published in GMA News Online, March 18 2013.