Play digs deep into human psychology
Chances are, if you’re a fan of stage and screen, you’re acquainted with Ira Levin’s work. Levin, who died of a heart attack in 2007, penned Deathtrap, the longest running comedy thriller on Broadway, and cult-classic novels-turned-films, The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby.
Chances are, however, that you have not heard of his foray into the dark corners of human frailty, Interlock, now playing at Baltimore’s Vagabond Players’ Theater through Feb. 8. And that’s a shame.
Interlock was Levin’s first play and, as the dramaturg’s notes relate, it “came and went without much notice.” It debuted in 1958 and perhaps was just a bit ahead of its time.
Pianist seeks a patron
The plot of this three-act, two-intermission play, which comes in at about two and a half hours, is simple. A young woman, engaged to an aspiring pianist, serves as companion to a wealthy, wheelchair-bound lady. In hopes the lady will become her fiancé’s patron, she introduces him. And then things start to get interesting.
The entire play takes place in the music room of Mrs. Price, the aforementioned lady of wealth, in Gramercy Park, New York City. The play is set just after World War II.
Hilde, the young female companion, is played by Karina Ferry, who portrays Hilde as good-hearted, if slightly naïve, with a strong desire to see the best in all those around her. It’s a character that undoubtedly resonates with Ferry, who also played set-upon heroine Bella in the psychological drama, Gaslight, at Baltimore’s Spotlighters Theater in 2010.
Rick Lyon-Vaiden is the pianist Paul, a recent immigrant from Stuttgart, Germany and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Lyon-Vaiden’s body language might be called the stereotypical Germanic male, that is, upright, head back and proud. But inside he is as malleable as the bread dough at the bakery where he toils.
In Paul, playwright Levin has crafted an intriguing character who, like Hilde, undergoes a metamorphosis in the presence of master manipulator Mrs. Price, played pitch-perfect by veteran actress Laura Gifford.
While Paul at first has no interest in Mrs. Price’s “charity,” he falls prey to her sophistry, as it becomes quickly apparent that Mrs. Price has designs on the young musician. Lyon-Vaiden makes Paul a character simultaneously likeable and dislikeable as he vacillates between wants and desires, between what is right and what is expedient — not an easy feat.
Born into a wealthy family himself, Paul is drawn to Mrs. Price, a mirror image of his mother (dubbed “the Ice Queen” by Paul’s father), and their relationship is nearly Oedipal in nature.
In the final act of the play, there’s a scene where one can see a piece of sheet music among Paul’s belongings. The piece is entitled, “The Student Prince,” and that is exactly what Paul is — an eternal student, both of music and of life, and a would-be prince who must decide between life in the ivory tower or his soul.
Gifford is stellar in her portrayal of a wolf in invalid’s clothing, playing the sympathy card for all its worth as she pulls in Paul while pushing out Hilde.
She manages to evoke laughs, sympathy and anger from the audience in her performance of a woman who today would likely be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Rounding out the ensemble are Lisa Walker as Lucille and Grant Chism as Everett, Mrs. Price’s long-time servants who make the most of rather small support roles.
Lucille is Walker’s acting debut; she plays well the part of a favored servant who now feels displaced by Hilde’s presence. While Lucille is willing to excuse her employer’s “meanness,” one senses in Chism’s tone and body language that he is not as forgiving and bears more sympathy for Hilde, herself a one-time servant in Paul’s family home.
The Google online dictionary defines “interlock” as the process by which “two or more things engage with each other by overlapping or by the fitting together of projections and recesses.” Levin’s play is suitably titled, as the “pieces” — Paul, Hilde, Mrs. Price, Lucille and Everett — all fit together and overlap, with bonds of friendship and love, service and loyalty, deceit and death.
A twisted Cinderella?
Taken another way, Interlock is kind of a twisted take on Cinderella: Mrs. Price as a combination fairy godmother and evil stepmother, Paul a less than charming prince, and Hilde in the title role, but a more modern, feminist take on the fairy tale character, who learns to save herself.
Kudos to director Roy Hammond for instilling a quick pace and seamless choreography as actors weave in and out of a two-level stage.
Charlie Danforth’s lighting builds upon mood while Sarah Kendrick’s costume designs are on target, appropriate to the era, and also revealing of character.
In the first act, for example, Paul is a proud but poor man. His jacket is clean, but with a visible tear. As the play progresses, Mrs. Price’s influence can be seen in his changing attire: a rich suit and sharp red tie.
Interlock runs through Feb. 8 with show times at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. There will be a special $10 performance on Thursday, February 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $20, depending on day of the week, with a $3 senior discount off the Saturday and Sunday $20 ticket price.
The Vagabond Players theater is located at 806 S. Broadway in Fells Point. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.vagabondplayers.org or call (410) 563-9135.