The Dock Brief Review – A Sly British Comedy By Elaine L. Mura. An English barrister, author, and playwright, John Mortimer has written a two-character subtle comedy bursting with unfulfilled hopes and dreams. At the same time, it is a poignant tale about two losers who have lasting effects on each other. Mortimer opines that comedy “is the only thing worth writing in this despairing age, providing it is comedy which is truly on the side of the lonely, the neglected, and unsuccessful.” The two principals in this subtle comedy amply fill the roles of lonely, neglected, and unsuccessful. Mortimer’s barrister Morgenhall (Frank Collison) is nearing the end of his legal career and has never had a modicum of success or any cases that would have made a name for him. He has never married, never had a family, and never had any of his meager expectations realized. He is lonely and all but forgotten when, suddenly, he is cast in the role of defender of a man who has murdered his wife. It appears to be his lucky day.
Enter defendant Fowle (Wesley Mann), a man who admits his guilt and doesn’t really want to be defended. He too is lonely and forgotten and spent his days before the murder talking to his birds. His motive for the murder appears to be that his wife was chronically happy. When Fowle cleverly presents her with the perfect paramour as a boarder, she kicks out the boarder for being too familiar. They don’t run away together, much to Fowle’s chagrin – leaving only one possible solution to his marital problems. Now he spends his days standing on a chair in his cell so that he can see distant trees from a rusty barred window. Neither of these characters seems to have anything in common except for their isolation and failures – and yet, when they come together, something unexpected emerges from the chemistry of their meeting. As Morgenhall outlines possible defense strategies for murder, the depressed and ineffectual Fowle becomes animated and involved in the fantasies drawn. In fact, despite the failure of every strategy considered, Fowle and Morgenhall enter into a sort of “folie a deux.” They end up happily taking on the different roles in their mutual fantasies and succeed in complementing each other’s personalities – to the chuckling amusement of the audience.
Eureka! Morgenhall has a chance to use his years of study in his first real trial before it’s too late, and Fowle gets to support and help a man who is much better educated but lost. Finally, they leave the cell and go to court, and the murder trial commences. The verdict? You’ll have to see the play to find out. Suffice it to say that you may be surprised – and certainly amused.
Artistic director Marilyn Fox and director Robert Bailey bring this witty and clever English comedy to life with the able assistance of producers Valerie Havey and Lia Kozatch, costume designer Audrey Eisner, set and light designer Norman Scott, and the entire talented production team. And last, but most certainly not least, kudos to the two extraordinary actors who breathe life into Morgenhall and Fowle, Frank Collison and Wesley Mann. Their faces tell a thousand tales without the need for a single word, but the audience is lucky enough to also have Mortimer’s aural duet – the sophisticated and educated English of the barrister playing counterpoint to the uneducated vernacular of the defendant. These small but meaningful details confirm Mortimer’s mastery at crafting good theater, the actors’ consummate skills in translating paper words to life, and the director’s keen eye and ability to make the play accessible to the public.
THE DOCK BRIEF runs Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 705 ½ Venice Blvd. In Venice, CA 90291. Tickets are $25 to $30. For reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online at www.PacificResidentTheatre.com.