By Rick A. Elina
Clinically speaking, grief is defined as “…the normal response to the loss of a loved one by death.” More often than not, human responses to death and dying are anything but normal. A textbook approach to grief is about as useless as a textbook approach to love. However, textbook perfect is ironically the ideal description for Losing Daniel, the current production offered by Teatro delle Muse. Dallas playwright Lon Rogers takes us on an intimate journey through the unsteady landscape of grief. Everything about this play is textbook, from it’s tightly written script with its beautiful language to its indefectible direction, dramatic set design, impeccable sound and stylish costumes. The highest of praise must be bestowed on Director, John Mallory Land, who also served as set designer, for bringing to life a technically and artistically flawless production.
Mr. Land seizes the main theme of the play with such an exuberant embrace that the end result is an enormously entertaining and thought-provoking testament to the tragedy of hubris – “the pride that kills.”
Twenty years after the death of their son Daniel, the mountain home of Matthew and Nora Shelton remains bordered on all sides by tragedy and loss. Matthew (Ray Gestaut), a famous American playwright, stumbles across a play he wrote twenty years ago in an effort to assuage his grief and to give his dead son a touch of immortality. Too painful to produce at the time of his loss, Matthew has decided to resurrect the project with the condition that he alone has final approval over the actor to play Daniel. Mr. Gestaut astutely portrays his conflicted character with a superb mixture of conviction and confusion
Tommy (Chad Halbrook) is the accidental actor who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Daniel, not only in looks but also in mannerisms. Mr. Halbrook does an exceptional job of playing a character playing an actor playing a character. Early in the play, Matthew describes the character Daniel to the actor Tommy with an almost tearful affectivity. Matthew explains, “Daniel is looking for his father and his father is looking for Daniel. They’ve been separated, torn apart.” Matthew’s emotion prompts Tommy to ask if Daniel was real. Mathew evades the question and tells Tommy “you have to make him sound real.”
This exchange signals that a hero is about to be reborn and a second chance conferred. In the world of theatre, the omnipotent playwright reserves such privileges. However, Nora Shelton (Juli Erickson) fears the toll that such a prerogative will exact on her husband. Ms. Erickson convincingly portrays the protective and selfless wife. Nora is in fact, the only character of the play not primarily driven by a self-serving need.
Counter to Nora is Ruth Fixler (Nicole Metcalf), a tough-as-nails director who’ll stop at nothing to succeed. Cindy Miller (Elizabeth Robinson) is Ruth’s assistant. Ms. Robinson is resplendent in her stage presence. In several scenes with Tommy, sufficient heat is generated to melt a Colorado snowfall.
Artistically, technically and literarily, this play is a symphony of pathos and humor that slowly builds to a calamitous crescendo, where heartbreaking revelations will tragically alter relationships forever.
By offering equity contracts to attract the best professional actors, Teatro delle Muse is setting a new standard in Plano as the only true professional theatre company. After all, excellent actors give excellent performances. Such excellence is evident in this production and Losing Daniel should top your must-see list.
Teatro delle Muse presents Losing Daniel continues with an added performance on Saturday, November 1, 2008 at The Art Centre Theatre, Plano, Texas. Visit TeatrodelleMuse.us or call 972.424 MUSE for more details.
Rick A. Elina is a playwright based in Plano, Texas and is the Theatre Critic for The North Dallas Gazette.