Sunday, January 18, 2015

Intriguing Interlock

Vagabond Players' new production of Interlock is an authentic Baltimore theater event.  This is the city's premiere production of Ira Levin's psychological thriller.  First produced on Broadway in 1958, the play did not even survive a week, despite a stellar cast (Rosemary Harris, Celeste Holm).  Ably directed by Roy Hammond, the Vagabond production makes a compelling case that this psychological puzzle of a drawing-room play deserves a second look.

The personal link of the director to the writer also makes a fascinating background story.  Years ago, Hammond became an ardent fan of Ira Levin, the author of numerous thriller novels and plays.  Deathtrap, Rosemary's Baby, and The Boys From Brazil are the most famous.  Becoming a personal friend of Levin, who died in 2007, Hammond set himself the task of reviving all of Levin's plays, most of which had long since fallen into desuetude.  His production of Veronica's Room in Los Angeles in 1997 brought the director new theatrical awards and stimulated a new interest in Levin's neglected canon.

Set in the music room of a mansion in tony Gramercy Park in Manhattan shortly after World War II, Interlock pivots around the stormy relationship between the mansion's owner, Mrs. Price (Laura Gifford), her German-immigrant companion, Hilde (Karina Ferry), and Hilde's German-immigrant fiance and budding musician, Paul (Rick Lyon-Vaiden).  Effectively playing the manipulative grande dame confined to a wheelchair, Gifford uses measured doses of intimidation, rage, graciousness, and self-pity to force Paul into a relationship and Hilde into an abandonment which neither could envision at the play's formal high-society opening.  Family secrets, venal ambitions, sexual desires, and class distinctions are gradually unmasked with growing brutality as the original quest to find good rehearsal space for Paul deteriorates into something more sinister.  Ferry and Lyon-Vaiden match Gifford's performance in their convincing expression of the confusion and rage which accompany their descent into Mrs. Price's well-heeled version of domination and submission.

Not everything in the script works.  The opening twenty minutes provide a leaden account of the background of the three main characters.  The closing scene between Price and Paul is overwrought melodrama.  But the shifting emotions of the play's central triangle of characters and the increasing cruelty of the matron's manipulation have a riveting Strindbergesque steeliness.  Interlock is even worth a third look.     

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