The Dresser is in San Jose

San Jose Rep presents The Dressesr …a comic portrait of backstage life.
We are are born at the rise of the curtain and we die with its fall.
Jules Renard

The Dresser examines the backstage relationship between the self absorbed “Sir” played by Ken Ruta and his loyal, too devoted and very alcoholic dresser Norman played to perfection by James Carpenter. The play opens in 1942 during World War II when Britain’s very survival was in danger. We hear the sirens and air raid warnings even as the actors in this struggling repertory theater prepare to present their 227th performance of King Lear. “Sir” is so old that he borders on senility and his body threatens to give out on him. Norman, who has dedicated his entire life to taking care of this aging and decaying and autocratic old man fears his death not just because he will be losing his employer but because he will have to say good bye to the very fabric of his own life. The play is a tribute to theater and the to friendship, loyalty and human spirit of actors facing every kind of trauma both from within with their main character in a state of collapse and without with the world threatening to destroy their country. The show must go on and indeed it does despite falling scenery, failing wind effects, and impending disaster. “This play, which celebrates the power and love of the theater to sustain us, speaks very deeply to me,” says Director Rick Lombardo. “In its celebration of all things theatrical, it also celebrates the power of tradition, work and purpose to give meaning to whatever we do in life.”

The Dresser was written by Ronald Harwood and was based on his own experiences as dresser for the distinguished British actor Sir Donald Wolfit who is the prototype for Ken Ruta’s character. It was first presented in Manchester, England in 1980 and in 1982 was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. “I am enormously excited to be working on this play with two of the Bay Area’s finest and most beloved actors, Ken Ruta and James Carpenter,” said Lombardo.

For this reviewer, it is James Carpenter who carries the play. He is in his role every moment and despite the many flaws in pacing and direction in the production, when Carpenter is on stage the drama glows. Rachel Harker as Her Ladyship is excellent and very real in her part and the rest of the cast does as well as can be expected with the cumbersome scene changes and dragging movement. The entire performance is runs over two hours and to this reviewer it seemed to go on and on and on. The lines were slow and dragged out until they were finally said and the magic of this beautiful drama of human need mingled with loyalty and love was lost. Only Carpenter managed to keep the audience with him and that is a magnificent achievement since really he did it almost alone.

The acting was good, the sets effective if a bit overdone and David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting masterful. One only wishes that everyone on stage would have just hurried up.

The Dresser continues through February 20, 2011 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, in San Jose between South 2nd and 3rd Streets
Tickets $35-$74: 408 367 7255 or