IOLANTHE AT MIT: Why is it death to marry a mortal? I have seen and participated in more productions of IOLANTHE than I can count, without ever having given this question more than passing thought. It is a great credit to Marion Leeds Carroll's direction, and to Neal Addicott's wonderfully human portrayal of Strephon, that this question was seriously raised and answered. Delivering Strephon's speech about the disadvantages of his hybrid status with earnestness and simplicity, Mr. Addicott made it clear that there was a breach in the order of things: a person that we cared about existed, whose upper half was immortal but whose lower half grew older every day. Fans of Tolkien's Silmarillion will recognize the problem: when mortals marry immortals, the offspring are a dangerous anomaly whose place in the universe poses a problem for gods and men. And throughout the first act, Mr. Addicott presented a delightfully balanced realization of his ethereal nature, as shown in his pure pleasure in meeting his fairy relatives, and his earthy side, as shown in the warm physicality of his scenes with Phyllis (Emily Browder).
Marion's productions, at their best, are like a novel by Trollope: every person on stage has a fully developed human character which informs all their gestures and reactions, and out-of-character "bits" for a laugh are almost unknown. Complete personalities emerge even among the chorus; and in this smallish production it was almost possible to follow all the subtexts. Notable among the ensemble were Ms. Browder, a naive and robust Phyllis with a glorious voice; Meg Christian as an affectionately maternal Iolanthe; and Grace Colon as a remarkably natural Fairy Queen. The chorus of fairies gave a unanimous impression of petiteness and grace, in marked contrast to the hulking Peers, whose famous March came across as a stern debate between the forces of "Tantantara" and "Tzing Boom", respectively. Among the distinctive touches were wreathes of Christmas tree lights in the fairies' hair, looking like clouds of fireflies when they entered the darkened stage, and the thunder clap that accompanied each of Ms. Colon's entrances. Wayne Vargas as the Lord Chancellor took ownership of his patter songs most impressively (although the extreme dryness of his interpretation left his love for Phyllis and Iolanthe's love for him to the audience's imagination), while Bob Grady and Aaron Sompong as Mountararat and Tolloller provided a fine blend of comedy and dignity. The one disappointment was Robert Morrison's Private Willis: his excessive hamming was a reminder of what this production otherwise nearly completely avoided.
Music direction was provided by David Grunberg, and the excellent lighting design was by Stuart Levine. -- NANCY BURSTEIN