So many great old plays, with their large casts and imaginative explorations of straight theatricality, have grown beyond the means of nonprofit Equity companies while still falling below the ambitions of bells-and-whistles Broadway. Except for the occasional, perhaps problematically "re-imagined" professional revival, the lesser classics of the stage are left to the graces -- and variable aptitudes -- of our community theaters.
So my apprehension upon my first visit to the New Olde Bank Theatre was not entirely due to the long flights of stairs to climb. It also concerned how Lanford Wilson's early (1966) The Rimers of Eldritch would fare in a tiny space with a large and mixed company.
Whew. No fears for either Wilson or the audience: If the players do not always cover themselves in unmitigated glory, neither do they embarrass themselves or the material. Relax and enjoy.
Eldritch is a small town that may seem harmless and homey, but Rimers rips at the masks of respectability. Even the most sympathetic characters have dark sins to hide, and the unsympathetic their virtues to reveal. The young Wilson was not subtle. Three old ladies methodically intone upon evil -- two while engrossed in needlework while the third snips the metaphorical thread of finality -- just like the three sisters of the Greek Fates (respectively and respectfully played by Roberta Honse, Mace Porac and Elizabeth T. Brinkley). The law, religion and local prejudice all get mixed together, embodied in the multiple characters so ably portrayed by Michael Hoffman.
Rimers is tricky, filled with wordplay (e.g., "rime" can refer to such things as a type of frost or the rung of a ladder, as well as a variant spelling of "rhyme"). The action weaves back and forth in both time and space; there's a definite risk that the repetitions of dialogue and movement, meant to grow and build into a fearsome climax, could become boring.
But director Sean Michael O'Donnell keeps his 17 cast members in the requisite rhythms. The set and costumes, by Todd Collar and Daniel O'Donnell, suggest the right degree of small-town dissolution. And despite the obvious disparities between many of the actors and the stated ages and physical attributes of their characters, their credibility is only slightly strained, never shattered.
The Rimers of Eldritch continues through Sun., May 17. The New Olde Bank Theatre, Verona. 412-251-7904 or www.newobt.com