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Review: Sarah and Oscar at the 2014 Orlando Fringe Festival

Sarah and Oscar
Windwhistle Theatre
60 min.
Pink venue
Remaining showtimes: 5/24, 1:30 p.m.; 5/25, 1:45 p.m.
Purchase Tickets Here

By Kimberly A. Brown

Nevada City, California’s Windwhistle Theatre brings some history to this year’s Fringe Festival, with the dramatic tales of famed French actress Sarah Bernhardt and renowned literary personality Oscar Wilde, in the aptly named, “Sarah and Oscar.” Actually, the title is sort of a misnomer. And sort of not.

The performance features a seated Sarah (Marion Jeffrey) downstage right, with Oscar (Mark Lyon) standing upstage to the left. The two characters have no interaction, no knowledge of one another’s presence as they tell their stories only to the audience, a pingpong of monologues while the lights responded accordingly (save for a few minor mishaps), illuminating the speaker and washing the silent artist in shadow.

The only intermingling by the pair is found in their different stories—and even then, it’s sparse. Sarah gets the first mention from Oscar, vis-à-vis the banned play he had written with her in the leading role. It feels quick and dismissive, more an acknowledgement of his heights achieved as a playwright than admiration for the actress.

The same is true of Sarah’s recollection of Oscar, leaving out any semblance of respect for his artistry or affection as a companion, focusing instead on the lilies he tossed at her feet as she arrived in London to perform.

Its left wanting for a deeper connection between the two, as both seem to reserve the love and praise for their own work. But maybe that preoccupation is what they share, and maybe that’s fitting. Perhaps it’s not so much “Sarah and Oscar” as a duo, more “Sarah and Oscar,” an investigation. The play packages both artists so one easily serves as a model for an examined life of the other.

There are more commonalities made apparent throughout—their sass and love of the finer things, their hedonistic pursuits of romance. But it’s an interesting juxtaposition of lives, as well. Sarah’s devotion to her son stands in contrast to Oscar’s reckless affairs with men. And Oscar’s understanding and regret for his wife’s real suffering at the hands of his exploits is distinct next to Sarah’s breakup with fellow actor Mounet-Sully, seeking “only new” and viewing her love life as an extension of the stage.

Perhaps the most intriguing is the play’s timeline. Sarah and Oscar’s meeting is likely inconsequential to their outcomes, but nonetheless, in this play, it stands as the marker for the rise of Bernhardt’s career, and the downfall of Wilde’s. Like two ships in the night, one arriving at its destination to great fanfare; the other, the Titanic.

(It’s interesting to note the modern-day reversal: Wilde is remembered and celebrated, while Bernhardt is much lesser known.)

Jeffrey is the real star of the show, and as the script’s creator, it’s likely intentional. Her enthusiasm for the role is apparent—her eyes glaze over with tears describing Sarah’s experience during the Franco-Prussian War; they light up when she talks about her love for acting. Her monologues are at times significantly longer, Lyon’s amounting often to a quick delivery of Wilde’s witty adages. More development of Oscar’s character would have been appreciated, but with Lyon’s portrayal of Wilde a bit stunted and underwhelming, Jeffrey’s charisma would have overpowered nonetheless.

Orlando Fringe 2014 pic

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