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Theater Breaking Through Barriers Presents "The Middle Ages" at Theatre Row
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Theater Breaking Through Barriers Presents "The Middle Ages" at Theatre Row

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Theater Breaking Through Barriers

The Middle Ages
At the
Kirk Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

A Comedy by A. R. Gurney
(A.R. Gurney Bio)
Directed by Ike Schambelan

Barney: Terry Small
Eleanor: Marilee Talkington
Charles: George Ashiotis
Myra: Melanie Boland

Costume Designer: Chloe Chapin
Set and Lighting Designer: Bert Scott
Hair and Wig Designer: Angelina Jerbasi
Sound Designer: Richard M. Rose
Casting: Michael Cassara Casting
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Production Stage Manager: Kimothy Cruse
Asst. Stage Manager: Brooke Elsinghorst
Production Managers: David Chontos and Nicholas Lazzaro
Press: Shirley Herz Assoc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 6, 2008

What a turn of fate that The Middle Ages, A.R. Gurney’s 1977 two-act play about the anachronistic world of upscale Protestants, would be produced, just as the Republicans lose control of the White House and Congress, all at once. This is one of Gurney’s early works (See a review of Gurney’s more recent Buffalo Gal), and it takes place in “the trophy room of a men’s club in a large city”, from the mid 1940’s to the late 1970’s. Four actors appear as four decades pass by, starting with the present, then through flashbacks, and back to the present. Characters fight, reject, bond, disappear, evolve, marry, divorce, marry (different characters), reunite, and one even dies. Most of the actors in this production are physically impaired (vision, hearing), and most of the time those disabilities are unapparent. And, even when they are, especially when they are, those actors are even more engaging and appealing, as, despite the boundaries of stage and set, they never lose a beat.

Charles (George Ashiotis) stands in his men’s club, surrounded by warm, wooden walls, heads of hunted animals, and a stained glass window. His life, already over, but we are in flashbacks, is about to change, as he meets the mother, Myra (Melanie Boland) of his son’s fiancée. That son (Billy), the conventional son, remains offstage, but his other son, the unconventional Barney (Terry Small), is smitten with Billy’s fiancée, Eleanor (Marilee Talkington). And so begin the games. This social comedy follows Barney and Eleanor, as Eleanor rejects his early advances and marries and divorces Billy. But, Eleanor keeps the flame for Barney, while decades dissolve before our eyes. Eleanor’s hair, and costumes change from prim curls, to big hair, from sensible dress, to wedding gown, to smart slacks. Barney’s costumes and hair change from classy slacks, to Navy uniform, to hippie colors, to funereal suit, and slick straight hair, to LA frizz, and back. Barney dashes in and out the window with daredevil abandon, and even shoots himself with ketchup to draw anticipated sympathy from Eleanor early on.

George evolves from his diehard prejudices, when he invites his son’s roguish friends inside his “Club”. Soon the Club’s white male traditions disappear, as women join and convene, before the Club loses its allure, and membership and money melt away. Barney buys the Club with the proceeds of his new porn film business. And, the games continue, as Myra and George merge lives, before George succumbs to illness, and Barney and Eleanor re-connect. There are moments of sheer poignancy, with brief monologues for George and Myra, as they reflect on the state of families, society, and fleeting time. George Ashiotis is charming and complex, as he first cares for his family’s men’s club and silver trophies with responsibility and pride, before he summons that responsibility and pride for Myra and his own prodigal son, Barney.

Marilee Talkington (Eleanor) and Melanie Boland (Myra) develop their characters through shifting emotions and dates with destiny. Ms. Talkington, especially, has little time to re-invent her personality, as life happens, and decades roll on. Terry Small (Barney) exudes wit, verve, and devilish delight, as Barney is determined to get his way. Kudos to A.R. Gurney, a prolific playwright, with a gift for opening the window on society’s sacraments and stereotypes. Check out the current and future productions of Theater Breaking Through Barriers.

Terry Small and Marilee Talkington
in "The Middle Ages"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Terry Small and George Ashiotis
in "The Middle Ages"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at