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Diary of a Scoundrel at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 28 August 2006

The problem with most masquerade parties is that few guests take them seriously enough. There is no such problem here. If ever you liked to play dress-up, here is a brilliant vicarious opportunity. Costume Designer Carol Woods provides so many delights that if ever you toyed with an interest in performing with the Masquers, this performance will convince you to sign up for an audition!

Diary of a Scoundrel, directed by Carlene Collier Coury and Marilyn Kamelgarn, is a comedy set in Russia in 1867, six years after the freeing of the Russian serfs, an issue bitterly resented by some characters in the play, though not by all.

The leading rôle belongs to a young man of breeding named Yegor Gloumov (played by Ulysses Popple). Ulysses is a promising actor, but his performance is inconsistent. Let me explain.

Yegor, upon his father’s death, discovers he is poor. He decides to make his way in society through the use of false flattery and intellectual deference. He dons a new Uriah Heep personality speaking aggressively to all and sundry in an oily, cloying manner. He patters with smooth insincerity. His courting of his mistress is cool and superficial.

Periodically Yegor reverts to his original self and writes scathing truths about his acquaintances in his diary. (Photo left by Jerry Telfer). Yegor also returns to his “real” personality when he is alone with his mother (who is a party to the deception). For both of these personalities, Yegor has the same demeanor; he displays little emotion and evokes none in us. This might convince the audience that it had met the depth of this actor’s ability were it not for another occasion where Yegor recalls a memory. Yegor’s voice takes on two parts, his own and that of the other character, a clairvoyant. As Yegor retells the clairvoyant’s words, his voice shifts into something sinister and seductive, and I felt my skin begin to crawl. It is done with such finesse that I almost missed recognizing how truly accomplished it was; I knew then that the actor Ulysses, if he chose, could make us believe anything at all.

Yegor was the only rôle which might have had depth. I was dissatisfied with Ulysses’ portrayal of Yegor exactly because of our peek at his skill; if I had never seen it, I wouldn’t have missed it. In mitigation it must be noted that a truly depraved scoundrel might have upset the play, as all supporting characters are shallow and quite frivolous.

Yegor’s mother, Galfira Gloumov (Joyce Thrift), is a stately matron with doubtful morals. She titters and squeaks in such a high penetrating voice that she wins compliance from gentlemen eager to get away from her.

Yegor Kourchaev (Paul J. White) is a military man with no virtues and only the usual vices. Yegor doesn’t have much to do in the play, but he is a most handsome gentleman, and slouches most admirably. He credibly looks dissolute, yet cares for the girl, and holds the audience’s interest in watching him storm across the stage.

Golutvin (C. Conrad Cady) is a man without an occupation who is fully prepared for employment as long as it entails pilfering others’ publishable material or genteel blackmail. Conrad brilliantly communicates his talent and great experience: Golutvin dresses with an irreproachable gaiety. Golutvin performs a tipsy dance across the stage and the audience’s attention is captured. Golutvin moves his hands and the audience, like a mouse trapped by a cat, is ensnared.

Maniefa (Jo Lusk) is a clairvoyant (seeress) with a penchant for other people’s property and liquor, not in that order. Dressed as a fashionable bag-lady, Maniefa is a drunk with smidgens of lucidity. Her remarks are either nonsense or charged with an awful truth which others desperately wish to ignore. Maniefa could be ludicrous, instead she is funny.

Neel Mamaev (John Hutchinson) is the wealthy uncle. Since Richard Burton is no longer alive, John Hutchinson is my vote for Man With Whom I Would Most Like To Be Stranded On A Desert Isle. Something about the way those legs move as they strut around the stage; it isn’t walking, it’s bigger and looser than walking. That voice, it reaches right to the back of the theatre and the back of my lungs. And the cape! Can you blame me for wanting to gape at this phenomenon for all time?

Kroutitsky (David J. Suhl) is a old man of great self-importance. His lameness looks so natural I found myself worrying that he might fall. He aptly illustrates staunch conservatism, an old man’s wistful memories of bygone tragedies, and an old man’s hope for just a bit more debauchery!

Kleopatra (Adele Margrave) is Neel Mamaev’s wife. Kleopatra is younger than her husband, but no longer in her first youth; her prime is beginning to fade, but her follies are not yet all behind her. What age is that, you ask? Well, are you done with all of your follies yet? Exactly. Kleopatra gives new meaning to the phrase “heaving bosom.” Adele is my vote for Actress Most Enjoying Herself. She has so many delicious moves that you will have to come and see them for yourself.

Ivan Gorodoulin (Mark Shepard) is a gentleman, noted primarily for his liberalism. He pretends to fawn and flirts in a restrained polite way, giving the impression of a cool, nonchalant man about town. He is princely.

Matriosha (Pennell Chapin) and Lubinka (Nancy Boerman) made no sense to me when they first appeared, though their purpose did become clear. With few words, they convey much. Admittedly there was nothing quite so funny as their leaving of it (the stage that is!)

Sofia Tourousina (Amy Landino) is a wealthy widow with an eye for the occult. Amy performs an accomplished portrayal of a prim emotionally and intellectually flighty woman; she vacillates expertly.

Mashanka (Heather Morrison) is an orphaned girl who says she’s happy with her aunt’s ideas for her future. This is a straightforward rôle for a lovely young woman, easy for Heather. An interesting twist is presented when she desires to behave exactly like her aunt - happy to give up sin, if only she gets a chance to do a little beforehand!

My choice for Most Funny Actor is Alex Shafer who plays the butler Grigori and servant Styopka. He does deadpan so well. He gives us priceless displays of surprise, disgust, suppressed anger, and glee. Oh especially, glee. In an earlier review, I wrote that Alex would bear watching.
I was right. If for no other reason, see this play.

The story line has predictable detours and the ending is a bit stagey, but it doesn’t matter a bit. The enchantment of this play rests with its characters: that magical combined sum of casting, costuming, makeup and acting.