The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead at Writers’ Theatre | Theater review

Deborah Staples inhabits a raft of distinct characters in Robert Hewett’s demanding and rewarding solo piece.
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow Deborah Staples in The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead at Writers' Theatre
By Oliver Sava |
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After her husband of 17 years leaves her for another woman, shy redheaded housewife Rhonda commits a crime of passion that alters the course of several lives. With a single actress portraying seven characters of different genders, ages and hair color, Australian playwright Robert Hewett’s 2004 work shows off its central performer’s transformative abilities, and emphasizes the connective thread that arises from Rhonda’s act of violence. Deborah Staples and director Joe Hanreddy staged the play at Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 2008; their experience with the script is apparent in Writers’ sharp, affecting production.

Staples’s hair, makeup and costume changes all occur onstage, creating an intimacy between audience and actress as we watch her change into a four-year-old boy or an elderly woman. When Staples begins Act II as Rhonda’s husband, Graham, the lack of that visible character shift, combined with his caricatured personality, makes him the least captivating of the characters. A wholly repulsive and apathetic figure, Graham fits the villain role too perfectly; it’s hard to see how three women could fall for him.

The most poignant monologues come not from the titular characters, but from the people who’ve become involuntarily swept up in the domestic drama. Through the accounts of a lesbian doctor, her son and their next-door neighbor, Hewett explores the devastating effects one person’s actions have on an entire community. Staples’s fully realized characters compensate for the script’s contrivances. She creates a cast of individuals who would be easily distinguishable even without the wigs.

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