Faceoffs dominate the drama of Theatre in the Park’s production of Ronald Harwood’s tragicomedy, The Dresser.
It’s 1942 Britain, air raid sirens underscore the precariousness of the situation, and an actor known as “Sir” wrestles with his makeup and his sanity. Norman, Sir’s loyal assistant, cajoles the disheveled, aging actor onto the stage for his 227th performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Their fraught, tumultuous 16 year relationship revolves around what they have sacrificed for their loyalty and devotion to theater.
Ira David Wood III tackles the role of Sir, careening between defiant arrogance and pitiful despair. His Sir wields his pomposity as a shield, revealing his vulnerable side only to his ever faithful dresser, Norman.
Mcrae Hardy’s Norman exhibits the requisite amount of fluttery fussiness as he endures Sir’s rants and confusion, as well as numerous slights and microaggressions aimed at his sexuality. Their claustrophobic relationship emphasizes a co-dependent and dysfunctional dynamic that too often exists behind-the-scenes.
Indeed, Harwood based this play on his experience as a dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, an actor with a reputation for less than pleasant behavior. It premiered at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and was nominated for Best Play at the 1980 Laurence Olivier Awards. The 1983 film version featured Albert Finney as Sir with Tom Courtney reprising his stage performance as Norman, and received four Oscar nominations. Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellan played the title roles in a 2015 film version.
Wood dominates his scenes, whether he is raging about his mortality or moaning over his inability to remember his opening lines. He also brings a touching poignancy to the portrait of a talented performer in his twilight.
But the spotlight is on Norman and his relationship to Sir. Neglecting his own needs, Norman embodies the show-must-go-on ethos since it is the source of his livelihood. Norman must placate not only Sir, but the other members of the company who are questioning whether Sir can continue to perform. And while Hardy emphasizes Norman’s meticulous mannerisms and restrained temperament, his delivery often feels rushed and more self-serving than eliciting sympathy for his plight.
Much of the action occurs in Sir’s dressing room, suitably cozy and functional. Wielding a bit of theatrical magic – actually manual manipulation by the crew – one wall revolves to reveal the backstage area during a performance of King Lear.
The only thing missing in this production seems to be the pathos between these two men, which seems like a missed opportunity on the part of the director, Wood, who could have leaned into their pain even more to make this production more resonant.
That said, this production amply highlights the talents of its lead actors, along with the supporting cast, and leaves its audience appreciating the sacrifices of those who have so clearly dedicated their lives to their art.
The Dresser runs through April 10 at Theatre in the Park. For more information visit https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/season-2022.html.