Mansion of Trash 

Dazzle offers fictionalized tale of strange, New York brothers

How interesting can a play be about two reclusive brothers who lived and died in their parents' house amid mountains of clutter?

Well, when handled with the wit and imagination of playwright Richard Greenberg, this fictionalized version of the famous Collyer brothers takes on a strangely compelling life of its own and leaves you wondering which (if any) of the incidents might actually have taken place.

Dazzle is the current show in the fifth season of the Boise Contemporary Theater, and the creative direction of Tracy Sunderland (one of my favorite Idaho Shakespeare Festival actresses) puts considerable pizzazz into what could be a talky, slow-moving script.

The play is based on the mystery surrounding the strange lives of the two Collyer brothers, Langley and Homer. They had money, a doctor father and an artistic mother, and lived in a stately mansion on Fifth Avenue in the Harlem area at the turn of the century. Perhaps the separation of their parents in 1909 dislodged something in their development; perhaps they were born with obsessive-compulsive disorders; but for whatever reasons, Homer and Langley retreated into a reclusive lifestyle, rarely venturing out and visited only by city officials, who turned off their power and water for nonpayment of bills. Although they had no social contacts and Homer lost his sight, Langley lived a very busy life, mainly at night, venturing out into the trash heaps of the city and dragging home what eventually reached 136 tons of junk. When they died in 1947, it took the police almost three weeks to find Langley's body buried beneath one of his own trash-laden booby traps. After his death, his blind brother, trapped in their impenetrable, boarded-up mansion, starved.

However, in Greenberg's play, Homer is an admiralty lawyer and Langley a successful concert pianist before their lives start going seriously off kilter. They return from a concert with the beautiful, young and very rich socialite, Milly, played with verve and saucy sexiness by Carie Yonekawa. Milly is very unhappy with her life and hints at secrets from which she would like to escape. The brothers fascinate her, and she does her best to entice them with her considerable charms, but her daring scene (for that era) with partial nudity does little more than distract the audience. This is when the brothers' strangeness becomes eerily apparent, and Matthew Clark's brilliant and complex portrayal of Langley shows his internal struggles as he tries to interact with this lovely woman.

Justin Ness as Homer has his own eccentricities, which he indulges by telling tall tales of his romances and travels. Ness skillfully communicates his sense of responsibility for his younger brother and the frustration he feels over the lack of action and direction in their lives.

Clark is spellbinding as he displays Langley's inability to relate to people, but he can finger Milly's hair endlessly or show his fascination with the "dazzle" of things by staring at a leaf all day. His tenseness on his wedding day is almost a palpable entity in the room, and he clings to his home--his house--with desperation. Clark achieves the double whammy of dramatically portraying his character's mental disintegration while still exuding a boyish charm and attractiveness.

By the second act, the two men show the effects of their reclusive lives. Gone are the dapper tuxedoes and top hats of an earlier day. Their clothes are dirty and tattered and the astonishing clutter they have accumulated oozes into the setting as scenic designer Michael Baltzell's walls begin to move, allowing stacks and mounds of incredible junk to eventually bury the doomed brothers. Milly's reappearance and her condition are as unbelievable as unexpected, but she has little influence upon the downward spiral of the strange hermits.

Dazzle is not an ordinary play--descent into madness never is--but Clark, Ness and Yonekawa give superb performances that make the strange story haunt your imagination.


by Richard Greenberg

Directed by Tracy Sunderland

Boise Contemporary Theater at Fulton Street Theater, 854 Fulton St.

8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, through Feb. 26

2 p.m. matinee Saturdays

Tickets $20 Thursdays and matinees; $25 Fridays and Saturdays

Reservations: 442-3232

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