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Theater Review:

Acting is gripping in ‘Goblin Market’

October 03, 2007|By Dink O’Neal

Gripping performances and beautiful production values bolster Syzygy Theatre Group's production of "Goblin Market," playing at the Grove Theater Center in Burbank. Director Martin Bedoian is certainly deserving of critical kudos.

His efforts are anchored by a pair of veteran performers who plumb the depths of this, at times, highly evocative material.

Two Victorian-era sisters, played by Tami Tappan Damiano and Jennifer Pennington, enter the musty attic of their family home. Over the next 75 minutes, they traverse time and space revealing through poetry and song a host of disturbing demons.


These actresses bring to life a clearly defined and completely believable relationship. The collective struggle we witness them endure is quite simply gripping. Damiano, as the younger sister Laura, is impetuous and bubbly, bringing to life her character's blossoming, often white hot, sexuality. So too, she masterfully embodies Laura's inability to withstand the enticing overtures of the Goblin Men. Purveyors of exotic fruit — or is it sensuality they sell — their siren calls lead to Laura's terrifying loss of innocence.

Pennington provides a perfect counterpoint as the older sister, Lizzie. Though her character appears guarded and strong, Pennington skillfully displays her breadth of talent by deftly avoiding the easy choice of frigidity. Instead, she is protective and nurturing. In the end, having withstood temptation, Lizzie's determination allows both siblings to progress into adulthood. These are riveting performances to be sure.

Bedoian's production team is equally first rate. Scenic designer Jason Z. Cohen's multileveled set allows for ease of movement throughout the play. It includes walls constructed of a material called "scrim" which, courtesy of Dave Mickey's striking back-lit illumination, reveal the upstage forest that haunts the girl's memories.

Uncredited props include various era-specific children's toys, most notable is a three-story dollhouse. Costumer Sherry Linnell has dressed both women completely in black, as though having returned from a funeral. Shedding these formal vestiges to reveal traditional period undergarments frees them to cavort through Mecca Vazie Andrews' charmingly appropriate choreography.

Finally, Philip White provides expert musical direction, especially given the show's unorthodox style. Composer Polly Pen contains a challenging assortment of styles and vocal ranges. It is not the territory for amateurs to trod.

Damiano and Pennington, supported by a piano and string ensemble, demonstrate their expertise in delivering the haunting melodies and complex harmonies with clarity and ease. This strangely endearing one-act musical, adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti, is like the proverbial onion. One discovers deeper and often more disturbing implications with each subsequent layer.

So, are the Goblin Men real? Or are they merely the childhood explanation for the terrors associated with growing up? It all makes for a production worthy of one's attendance.

 DINK O'NEAL, of Burbank, is an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn.

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