Hugh Dignon Delivers Theater Like New York

Review from The Mendocino Beacon, Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Hugh Dignon Delivers Theater Like New York

By John Osborne, Ph.D.

“How can the little town of Mendocino have theater like New York?” That’s what I was thinking as I walked away from the Rock the Ground Theater Company’s production of “Venus In Fur.”

The writing is fantastic, witty and humorous! And the two performers, Emily Anthony and Bruce Cole, are electrifying. The setting is a flat in New York. Yet we also get transported to an exclusive 1870 Carpathian health resort as the protagonists rehearse a play based on a novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (Yes, from where we get the word: sadomasochism or S&M!)

What director Hugh Dignon gives us is a very fresh examination of the power roles between men and women. In this play, the Goddess is alive and well, even though she’s dressed in revealing leathers or a sable cover. It’s a very stimulating play for mature audiences. It kept me laughing throughout the production and thinking all night. I was astonished at the depth of content and dynamic acting. Truly, like something I’d see in New York. (The program notes contain a fine tribute to Lou Reed.)

I felt the same admiration and excitement when I left the parallel production, “God of Carnage“, a few nights earlier. In this play, Bruce Cole and Emily Anthony are joined by Jacqueline Goehner and Hugh Dignon. Again, outstanding performances. We watch the breakdown of two couples as they try to discuss an altercation between their kids. It’s a powerful and shocking drama about marriage, parenting, and superficial manners. Director Jonathan Haugen provides lots to think about, and lots of laughter!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such engaging and provocative theater. And right here in Mendocino! I left both plays feeling satisfied and stimulated.

The upstairs venue is on Lansing Street in Mendocino, just down from Moody’s Coffee House. It’s a perfect setting for both plays. The theater-in-the-round set up draws the audience deeper into the action. It’s like we are in the plays, sitting just off to the side.

The person ultimately responsible for bringing both plays to the area is Hugh Dignon. Through his Rock the Ground Theater Company, he is providing us with first-rate theater. His dedication and belief in the arts make his productions truly outstanding.

As Henry Miller once said, “…the theatre can reach or touch us in what may be considered universal or mystical or cosmological realms. The full grader of the universe can only be apprehended emotionally. So, in the theatre (or on film) there come these moments occasionally when one is lifted out of himself, when one knows without knowing.” Miller would definitely enjoy these productions!

John Osborne, Ph.D., is a Mendocino resident.