The title The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead, aptly describes the three main characters in Triad Stage’s current production of Australian playwright Robert Hewett’s 2004 one-woman show. They include the spurned middle-aged wife Rhonda Russell, a redhead incited to a murderous rage by her brunette neighbor and best friend Lynette, who cruelly clues in the clueless Rhonda that her husband Graham is a notorious horndog who is currently having a not-so-secret affair with a young blonde Russian beauty named Tanya, who works in a discount jewelry store at a nearby mall.
New York-based actress Kate Goehring, who starred as Regina Giddens in Triad Stage’s September 2007 presentation of The Little Foxes, gives the three vividly drawn title characters distinct personalities. But if you assume that those are all the wig changes required in this play, you’d be mistaken. Goehring also smoothly slips beneath the skin of Rhonda’s lewd, crude, and very unattractive husband Graham as well as assorted friends, neighbors, and family members of Rhonda’s victim — who all suffer tragic consequences when Rhonda’s volcanic rage erupts at the mall. Their comfortable suburban lives will never be the same.
Goehring, who has appeared on TV in ER, The Untouchables, and Law and Order, and who was the original Harper Pitt in Michael Mayer’s national tour of Angels in America, switches wigs and costumes and characters on stage in full view of the audience. She varies her voice, accent, posture, and mannerisms to distinguish each of the five female and two male characters in this tawdry tale of an extramarital affair that leads to a senseless murder that would be Topic A for weeks on tabloid television.
Kate Goehring’s gritty characterizations resonate with Triad Stage patrons. She clearly is up to all the challenges of this convoluted script. Rapid transitions from character to character to character don’t faze her; they go seamlessly, if at first they are a little stiffly choreographed by director Eleanor Holdridge. But as her performance progresses, Goehring makes even the dropped prop here or there seem natural.
Triad Stage’s provocative presentation of The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead unfolds on a stark white-on-white set, with its back walls and the stage itself honeycombed with hidden compartments for the clothes, undergarments, hats, shoes, and accessories that Goehring needs to bring each character to life. Scenic and costume designer Anya Kleptikov’s set resembles a cross between a Leon’s Style Salon, a police interrogation room, and a surgical waiting room — all of which fit the play’s dramatic context, incidentally.
Kate Goehring makes her entrances and exits via a narrow passageway between the two huge white cubes that form the backdrop for the action. Both of these cubes are neatly divided into grids and decorated with dozens of wig forms and a wide ladder that leads, it turns out, to a perch from which the elderly Mrs. Carlyle delivers her comments on the play’s events. As Goehring opens drawers (or doors, as some turn out to be) in and around the cubes, she reveals the accoutrements of each character — which provide abundant insights into their personalities and perceptions and help Triad Stage patrons navigate their way through this maze of seven overlapping monologues.
The fact that all the costume changes happen onstage also has a way of drawing the audience further into the drama and, simultaneously, making them feel like voyeurs when some of the characters bare their souls. Backstage is onstage; dressing room is theater, sponsored by Spanx.
In the chain of seven characters, perhaps Goehring’s most believable are, oddly enough, the two males: one, a 4-1/2-year-old boy named Matthew who isn’t able to come to grips with the tragedy of his mother’s murder; and the second, the drunken, potty-mouthed Graham Russell, the philandering husband of the redhead-gone-vengeful.
It is during the second act that the play takes wing, soaring to meet the artistic challenges posed by such a lonely, linear production and plunging to the depths of human misery as it turns a possible farce into biting social commentary.
The white cubes-cum-closets of the set become perfect movie screens onto which are projected scenes from Anytown, USA: a local mall, hospital ward, housing development, and, yes, the de rigueur white picket fence. The photographs in the slideshow created by projection designer Bill McCord range from pastoral pastel to urban neon. They are eye-catching and elegant, but the juxtapositions seem familiar — like snapshots from the movie Junebug. But these slides are not completely integrated into the aura of this two-act play.
The title The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead may sound like a sex farce, but Robert Hewett’s play provides eye-opening insights into a strange world in which relationships are not always what they seem. In the end, the play is not about who’s to blame so much as it is who earns redemption, hair color notwithstanding.
For details of upcoming performances, see our theatre calendar.
*It is a pleasure to welcome Lynn Jessup, a long-time theatre enthusiast in the Triad, to the pages of CVNC.