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Review: Superb acting can't rescue 'Quills'

Giles Davies excels in the role of the delightfully wicked Marquis de Sade, along with the rest of the Jobsite cast.

Jobsite Theater

Giles Davies excels in the role of the delightfully wicked Marquis de Sade, along with the rest of the Jobsite cast.

There are quite a few things to like about Quills, the Jobsite Theater production that opened last weekend. It's the company's 13th Halloween-themed show, something of a trademark, though producing artistic director David Jenkins might be running out of thriller-dillers that don't involve Dracula, Frankenstein and other old standbys.

Quills is by an interesting playwright, Doug Wright, who won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his play, I Am My Own Wife, and wrote the clever book for the musical Grey Gardens. Here he tries his hand at a "penny dreadful," or pulp fiction about famous villains. Stephen Sondheim took a similar approach, with the addition of song and dance, in his musical about a serial killer, Sweeney Todd.

The Marquis de Sade is Wright's anti-hero, and he's portrayed by a splendid actor, Giles Davies, supported by a solid group of players in Jobsite's account of the infamous sexual adventurer's final days in an insane asylum in 1807. But the high concept of the script — the mannered, self-consciously melodramatic language — grows tiresome. The performance runs about 150 minutes, including an intermission, and it could lose a half hour with little harm.

Davies' performance is a tour de force in an ultimately boring role. De Sade is a diabolical force of nature, with a literary knack for aphorism (i.e., "In conditions of adversity, the artist thrives") that the audience is shown over and over and over again. Soon, all the blood and gore loses its shock value. Even Davies' nude scene, the longest since Love! Valour! Compassion!, becomes almost humdrum, but maybe that's the point. Nicole Jeannine Smith is fun as a coyly salacious seamstress, and Owen Robertson is suitably repellent as a sadistic physician.

Brian Smallheer created a gloomy red-walled setting for de Sade's demise, but the production falls short on the technical razzle-dazzle required to bring any special effects off. A couple of grisly coups de theatre are meant to end each act with a shudder, but alas, they are underwhelming.

Quills runs through Nov. 6 in the Shimberg Playhouse of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. $24.50; $10 rush tickets for students, seniors, military. (813) 229-7827; tbpac.org.

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Sarasota Ballet opens its season this coming weekend with five performances at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota. Repertory includes the U.S. premiere of Tchaikovsky's Ballet Fantasy by British choreographer Matthew Hart; Othello, choreographed to Liszt's Faust Symphony by Peter Darrell; and Shostakovich Suite, a new dance by Ricardo Graziano. $25-$85. (941) 359-0099, ext. 101; sarasotaballet.org.

On Nov. 19, Sarasota Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet, from Washington's Kennedy Center, perform a pair of classics, George Balanchine's Diamonds and Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons, at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

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The amateur Tampa Bay Symphony plays its first concert of the season in a new venue for the group, the Palladium in St. Petersburg, at 8 p.m. Tuesday. John Bannon, principal timpanist with the Florida Orchestra and a conductor, will be on the podium for a program that includes Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. $20; students free. (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

Review: Superb acting can't rescue 'Quills' 10/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 11:56pm]

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