Hamilton Fringe 2016
A twenty minute one-act play by August Strindberg, about a chance encounter in a restaurant between old acquaintances, is staged simply and effectively by this talented all-female company.
The stage is laid out in perfect symmetry. The two restaurant tables are each prepared for two patrons, the chairs and cutlery are immaculately aligned, the manners of the waitress are pristine, and everything is neat, tidy, prim and proper. But let not the balance of the milieu trick you into thinking you’re on an even playing field, for this is a play by Strindberg, and Strindberg is the master of imbalance.
His most famous play, Miss Julie, concerns a young love that is doomed because the lovers have been born into different tiers of social hierarchy. In The Stronger – a short play I’d not encountered before – the contrast between the two characters lies not in their social status, but in their gift of the gab.
Both parts are difficult to play, for polar opposite reasons, and both actresses do a remarkable job. Julia Sgarlata plays Amelia, a character who knows that strength lies in silence. Her stony stare speaks volumes, and she can deflect the fiercest attack with the simplest roll of her eyes. Less is more for this character, a contradiction for which the actress has a sound understanding.
Tracy Rankin plays the unnamed Madame – an old friend of Amelia who, it turns out, bears more than a minor grudge against the quieter lady. And the Madame is quite the talker. Amelia has – or so the Madame believes (for Amelia is not the sort of person who’ll open her mouth to incriminate herself) – wronged the Madame in matters of love, and the Madame tries various tactics of verbal dexterity to accuse, entreat, blackmail and insult her old friend. Tracy speaks clearly and with enough variety to sustain what is essentially a monologue.
A special mention must also be made for Robyn Sgarlata – apparently “the second youngest actor at this year’s Fringe”, we’re informed at the curtain call – who does a very good job as the restaurant’s waitress. Her understated yet truthful reactions to the shenanigans exhibited by her patrons, and her youthful innocence in contrast to their bitterness and recrimination, provides the play with a welcomed counterpoint.
It’s not a ‘big’ play – it feels a bit more like an experiment with form, or even a writing exercise, than anything approaching Strindberg’s masterpieces. But this short production is well put together, and particularly successful are the moments of comedy that punctuate the drama. It takes all sorts to make a Fringe, and here’s a sweet little oddity to entertain the ears and mind on a free afternoon.