Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet
By Allan Bennett
Irish Classical Theater Company
June 5, 2008
Josephine Hogan in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet. Photo: Lawrence Roswell.
Buffalo's Irish Classical Theater Company paired Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, two pieces from Alan Bennett's “Talking Heads 2” series originally created for the BBC. With ICT's resident artist Josephine Hogan as the head doing the talking, it's one intimate and fully embodied evening of theater. IRC has been wise to select two from the series that represent a potent juxtaposition of content, tone, and circumstances. They are both love stories that exist outside the normal lines of traditional relationships.
In Miss Fozzard Finds her Feet Hoganportrays a spinster middle-aged department store clerk who spends her time working in soft furnishings, carrying for her stroke-prone brother, and relaying her delicately scandalous adventures with her new foot doctor to anyone willing to listen. Who knew feet could be so all-consuming? Eventually, her relationship with the kinky doctor takes a turn toward the weird as he reserves the financial arrangement so that he pays her. Hogan takes us down her twisted path step by step, easing us into each new experience with a pixie-like charm. By the time she arrives at her new relationship she has won us over completely. Bennett's prose, rich in detail, lets the narrative merrily roll alone until we too find ourselves in an uncomfortable place. But at least Miss Fozzard is tickled, and in the end, finally liberated from the humdrum of her dreary store clerk life. Hogan plays up the sensuous aspects of Fozzard's journey, keeping a sly demeanor, as if her choices were as natural as can be. We don't often get to delight in the sexuality of older women, and here we get to wallow in it.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain takes a darker turn. Rosemary, a lonely housewife in a pleasant superb, befriends a neighbor that kills her abusive husband. Her neighbor is sent to the slammer, but that's hardly an obstacle to Rosemary's quest for a meaningful relationship. She tends her garden while she is in prison, visits often, and develops a deep friendship until she dies of cancer. The piece oscillates between comedy and bitter commentary on a lifeless marriage. Yet deeper secrets lie beneath the calm veneer of her stoic household. Although her tales of a growing intimacy with her neighbor soothes the exterior, a sense of doom pervades. A master of ambiguity, Hogan keeps us on edge, letting us participate in her isolation, doubt, and final horror at finding out the truth about her golf-playing repressed husband.
Ron Schwartz's humble dwellings are flexible enough to house both of these dramas and Tom Makar's sound design helps distinguish each piece nicely.
It's an evening of secrets for certain, one devilishly mischievous, the other, just devilish.