One word offered up by my friend summed up our experience at the opening performance of “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead.”
It’s not just the intimate setting at Books on Vernon. Not just the near empty stage. Not just the presence of a single actor for the entire show. It was all of that combined with a powerhouse performance from Deborah Staples, who portrays all the title characters and then some.
Staples opens and closes the show as the redhead, a tightly wound Rhonda Russell, first explaining her heinous actions and finally finding redemption. In between, we’re introduced to the Russian blonde, Tanya; the “best friend” brunette, Lynette; Russell’s sleazy husband Graham; and a small circle of others directly impacted by Rhonda’s actions.
The story is both heartbreaking and horrific. The revelation of exactly what happened is most amazingly portrayed by Staples, with ample help from Linda Buchanan’s set design, Keith Parham’s lighting and Martha Hally’s costumes—each so integral to Staples’ ability to pull off multiple characters without leaving the stage.
In listening to their stories and Staples’ artful costume changes, it is voyeuristic—we’re peeking into a tragedy unfolding that binds these characters together for the rest of their lives. The only bone I had to pick was in how playwright Robert Hewett characterizes Graham Russell—it wasn’t at all what I was expecting from Rhonda’s initial description of their marriage and not the type of guy I would expect Rhonda to marry. Ever.
Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma have a hit on their hands—what a way to close the 20th anniversary season for Writers’ and a welcome option for any summer date night.
“The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” is playing through July 29 at Writers’ Theatre’s Books on Vernon stage located at 664 Vernon Ave. in Glencoe. For tickets ($45 – $65), visit www.writerstheatre.org.