The Dresser returns to the Omaha stage with a distinguished cast led by John Durbin as the title character and Cork Ramer as Sir, the aging Shakespearean leading man who seems about to miss a performance for the first time in a long career.
It’s up to Norman the dresser to get his near-catatonic employer, exhausted by a manic escapade, ready for the opening curtain. It doesn’t start well when Ramer’s Sir begins smearing on black face to play Othello when he’s scheduled to perform King Lear.
The anticipation for this Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company’s production was already high, with the return of Equity actor Durbin to join Ramer in their roles. It increased when arrivals were greeted by a more complete scenic design than usually seen in the First Central Congregational Church venue. Bill Van Deest had adapted Susan Clement’s concept from the 2005 treatment at the Blue Barn starring Jerry Longe and Hughston Walkinshaw.
It didn’t hurt that the opening night, rather than the oft-scant attendance for Brigit classics, was full of local theater luminaries apparently eager for this combination of cast and the acclaimed Ronald Harwood script.
Director Cathy M. Kurz, as always, supplied the audience with rich background material in a printed program chock full of detail about the play’s setting in World War II England, apt prep for a play that begins with air raid sirens wailing as Norman the dresser frets about the missing Sir. His angst only accelerates when the badly disheveled actor finally shows up.
Enough scene setting. Whether applying his makeup, barking out orders or complaining about his overburdened existence, Sir gives ample range for Ramer’s fine instrument of a theatrical voice and Harwood’s script gives Durbin full opportunity to display the talents theater fans expect on his occasional returns to his Midwest roots.
We soon learn that Norman’s devotion to serving Sir and the “show must go on” tradition can be outweighed by his awareness that the self-centered actor doesn’t adequately appreciate his hard-working determination to stave off the threat of a cancelled performance.
Call it a case of unrequited love by servant for master. It comes to a head when Norman reads what Sir has written in appreciation of “the little people” that aid his role as actor-manager of the company, a list that omits any mention of the faithful dresser. Norman eventually manages to right that wrong.
Durbin and Ramer head a cast of veteran actors in solid supporting roles, including Charleen J.B. Willoughby as Madge the stage manager and Jeremy Earl, two Brigit regulars. Michael Lyon, NPR anchor and Omaha’s favorite crooner, completes the troupe with Carrie Nath as Her Ladyship, and Katt Walsh, whose motley duties include beating a big drum.
Director Kurz was blessed with Van Deest and Carol Wisner as lighting co-designers, and Eric Griffith, another Brigit veteran, as sound designer.
Suffice it to say, for the benefit of any who haven’t experienced the work by Cathy Kurz and her Brigit Company over the past quarter century, that The Dresser captures the essence of the quality they’ve brought to the performance of theater classics. Arrive early enough to peruse the rich detail in a program full of interesting information, including playwright Ronald Harwood’s note on his creation.
The Dresser continues at First Central Congregational Church, 431 S. 36th St., at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-18, and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24-26. Tickets are $35, $30 for students, seniors and military, except Thursday $15 or pay what you can. Tickets available at Brigit Saint Brigit website or by calling 402.502.4910.