- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

Rage drives George F. Walker's "Love and Anger," currently receiving a gravelly, intense production at the Round House Theatre under the direction of Daniel De Raey. There is the rage against the dying of the light embodied in Peter "Petie" Maxwell (Jerry Whiddon), a former fat-cat lawyer who views his recent stroke as a "growth spurt" and as an impetus to overhaul the entire judicial system.

There is the unsettling, sputtering rage of Sarah Downey (Sarah Marshall), a schizophrenic whose moments of coherence and insight are a glorious sight to behold. More subtle is her sister, Eleanor (Nancy Robinette), who serves as Petie's frazzled legal secretary and tries to remain professional despite her simmering anger at being downgraded from upper middle class to being forced to contend with the poor and the crazies.

There is the long-banked rage of Gail Jones (Thembi Duncan), Petie's client, a disenfranchised black woman who wants only to get her husband out of prison, not because he is innocent but because he is less culpable than the thugs who set him up.

Other forms of fury exist in the powerful types who inhabit the bleakly funny, charged landscape of "Love and Anger." Sean Harris (Marty Lodge) is Petie's old law partner, a good-looking and privileged sort who feels a grand sense of entitlement whether it be someone else's wife, family or a career in politics.

He is linked in more ways than one with his client John "Babe" Conner, a bullying newspaper mogul who also feels entitled to grab whatever he can.

The two of them are mad because, for the first time in recent memory, someone without power (namely, Petie) is telling them "no." Petie is suing Babe on the grounds of being a bad human being, and he has the evidence real and contrived to prove it. Predictably, Sean and Babe behave like little boys told they cannot go to the zoo. They pout, throw tantrums and lash out at those who try to tell them what to do.

Actually, the sight of powerful men being ordered around by a half-dead lawyer, a certifiably insane woman and the wife of a jailbird is what gives "Love and Anger" its subversive majesty. In Mr. Walker's world of splendid, often comic, anarchy, it is the articulate poor who turn the wheel.

To make the downtrodden the heroes is not an easy trick, since glorifying or victimizing them can make a play seem like a bad remake of "Tobacco Road" or socialist agitprop where happy workers are extolling the virtues of their communal tractor.

But Mr. Walker does not make his characters examples, but people who are deeply weird, deeply wounded, deeply courageous.

You have to love these brave, misguided little misfits. Especially Miss Marshall as Sarah. There are the broad, unbridled moments of comedy we expect from Miss Marshall but then, just when there is the danger of slipping into parody, the actress pulls Sarah into scarier territory where she is fragile, strong, tender, outrageous, sad and funny all at once.

It is similar with Miss Robinette, another actress known for her comic zaniness and her ability to articulate unhinged characters. While she has many scenes of inspired humor as Eleanor among the most amusing when she is passed out on a coach it is Eleanor's soft sense of regret and ruefulness that stays with you.

Mr. Whiddon's Petie is the other character who penetrates. His garrulousness and nearly messianic zeal to change the world may at first seem to come from anger, anger at the system, anger at his body for betraying him at a time when he feels his sharpest potential. But then you realize that Petie is acting out of love for his new-found cause and for the people he used to ignore. Mr. Whiddon gives us such an embodiment of twisted goodness you cannot help but be moved.

Mr. De Raey's direction shows his comfort with the rich underworld of Mr. Walker's plays, but the show is marred by uneven pacing, some real dead spots and unnecessary sound effects. The comic moments are played to the hilt, but you sense an unease with the more serious and profound scenes.

What you take away from "Love and Anger" is the vital message that the articulate and ticked-off poor are a force to be reckoned with.



***

WHAT: "Love and Anger" by George F. Walker

WHEN: Sundays and Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Through Oct. 13

WHERE: Round House Theatre, East West Highway (one block east of Wisconsin Avenue), Bethesda

TICKETS: $10-$36

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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