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Habeas Corpus

Like the legal term from which it takes its title, Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus carries a double meaning—in this case, both the inescapable biological imperatives of the human form as well as the means for escaping such imprisonment.

This is no easy prescription to fulfill, yet the popular British playwright makes it look effortless as he mixes elements of satire, broad physical comedy, and farce that are so favored by our brethren across the pond.

Beneath this English sitcom veneer, however, lies a dark, cynical view of human nature, set off by passages of epigrammatic rhyme that wax from ribald to razor-sharp commentary on the proceedings.

Photo of Kristina Denise Pitt as Felicity and Ed Baierlein as Wicksteed
Kristina Denise Pitt
as Felicity and
Ed Baierlein as Wicksteed
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Centering his script on an MD named Wicksteed, a family practitioner, Bennett is able to play the dispassionate attitude required of a professional against the impulsive desires of a bored husband in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

Director Ed Baielein, in the title role, has a field day with the script's rich language and manifold sexual innuendos, setting the tone for the production with his precise, idiosyncratic elocution and restrained, yet pointed, demeanor. Carried over into the ensemble, his performance and direction yield a hyper-realistic acting and linguistic style, crystallizing the eccentricities of character and language, yet leaving plenty of room for creative stage business.

Photo of Kristina Denise Pitt as Felicity Rumpers and Sallie Diamond as Lady Rumpers
Kristina Denise Pitt as Felicity Rumpers
and Sallie Diamond as Lady Rumpers
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Equally unfulfilled in marriage, Wicksteed's wife, Muriel, is a high wire act of propriety over a chasm of pent-up longing. Lori Hansen navigates this tight rope with aplomb, sending the production into back flips with an extraordinary burlesque interlude set off by the attentions of Shanks, an appliance fitter impressed with her unappreciated assets.

Like everyone else in this romp, Lady Rumpers—whose daughter is making overtures to the Wicksteed's son—attempts unsuccessfully to hide her sexual frustrations behind the famous genteel formality for which the Brits are so well known. Here, we can only shake our heads and ponder the depth of intimate deprivation that has produced the vibratory excitations of Sallie Diamond's rolling R's, as she hilariously exaggerates her character's dialect beyond Gilbert and Sullivan's wildest dreams of pomposity.

Photo of Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Connie and Jim Miller as Canon Throbbing
Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Connie
and Jim Miller as Canon Throbbing
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Equally hyperbolic comic characterizations are sprinkled throughout the rest of the ensemble, including: Linda A. Barner's nosey domestic, Mrs. Swabb; Tad Baierlein's aimless hypochondriac, Dennis; Jennifer Ann Forsyth's desperate wallflower, Connie; Michael A. Parker's self-righteous two-timer, Sir Percy; Jim Miller's lascivious vicar, Throbbing; and Kristina Denise Pitt's opportunistic ingénue, Felicity.

While Bennett's take on the sexual instincts that drive human behavior, and the underlying death wishes that play against these desires, is decidedly Freudian, his mocking take on these foibles, coupled with Baierlein's precise choreography and situational juxtapositions—which clarify the playwright's free-associative plot lines—delivers a production both uproarious and liberating.

Germinal Stage Denver's production of Habeas Corpus runs through May 8th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows

 

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