We’re lonely souls looking for a good word. —Brendhan Wren
Welcome to the real world of dramatic arts! —Greg Berman
When you think of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy two things come to mind. His two major opuses, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and that long salt and pepper beard he wore during his final years. It could be one of the characters symbolizing Tolstoy but which one? Could it be the desperate theater director Greg Berman (the wonderful JD Cullum) who so desperately needs a hit? He travels all the way to rural Sussex, England in search of the once brilliant writer Brendhan Wren (a phenomenal Stephen Caffrey) living in a remote part of the world with his dogs. Greg is on a mission to have Brendhan sign away his rights to his novel and turn it into a theatrical production. Wren, a drunkard bully, refuses to give Greg permission and casts him out into the stormy night where it’s pouring heavily. Not one to give up, Greg continues to unsuccessfully change the reluctant writer’s mind. No such luck. The two end up having a tenacious conversation trying to outdo the other. As Brendhan reminds himself, in between swigs of Jameson Irish whiskey, that he needs an AA meeting, he keeps turning Greg down about his novel.
Brendhan is volatile and on edge. He continuously warns he will shoot Greg if he persists. By now, Greg must be thinking, Maybe this wasn’t a great idea to visit? It’s safe to say, yeah it was nutty idea. You don’t visit a crazy man living in the middle of a frozen hell. I’m just saying. Brendhan’s schizoid behavior has Greg walking on extra sensitive egg shells. As Brendhan dresses up as Glinda the good witch of the South from film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in honor of celebrating Guy Fawkes Day, Greg goes into detective mode and finds a diary with some incriminating pages. He reads it all night in one sitting and confronts Brendhan, who finally cracks and the two have it out.
Tony and Obie Award winner Robert Allan Ackerman does an excellent job as a director and writer of this exceptional show. He puts in heart, drama, vulnerability and most importantly hope in this thoughtful work. He reminds me of the work of another great playwright Eugene O’Neill. Both writers get to rawness of family drama and exposes it eloquently well. Though Brendhan and Greg aren’t family, their dynamic is similar to a family. Always emotional, tender and raw that can cut you quick in the gut. Though at times grim, Tolstoy managed to convey laughter in good taste. It is funny, when appropriate and provoking when it needs it. A very good receipt for a wonderful show.
Tolstoy in Suffolk ends Sunday, November 19th at 5 p.m., Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th at 8 PM, playing at Studio C, located at 6448 Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood. For ticket reservation, log on to https://tolstoyinsuffolk.eventbrite.com