‘John & Beatrice’ at The Hub Theatre by Pat Davis

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The Hub Theatre’s production of John & Beatrice is riveting. The play is funny, poetic, suspenseful, and deep. A young woman advertises that she is an heiress who has never loved anyone and says she will substantially reward any man who can interest, move, and seduce her.  John arrives at Beatrice’s apartment, focused on the reward.  Beatrice sets the rules, and the battle begins, a battle of will and wits and rising stakes: two characters in a room with a chair, a table, a bowl of apples and many bottles of water. Oh, and a knife.

John (Eric Messner) and Beatrice (Jenna Sokolowski). Photo courtesy of The Hub Theatre.

The questions John & Beatrice wrestle with as events unfold are profound: What is truth?  What is love? What are the dangers and disappointments involved in loving? What is the ache under our ribcage? The play, by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette, is a masterpiece. Packed into sentences at once poetic and spare are ruminations on the deepest questions humans confront. In the Hub’s intimate space, this play sucks us in and holds us against those questions.

Jenna Sokolowski gives a fully committed performance as Beatrice, commanding, little-girlish, charming, and vulnerable by turns. Before the play begins, she is sitting onstage in an armchair, anxious and wistful, entirely in character for more than five minutes as audience members arrive and talk among themselves. This is a prelude to a wonderful, concentrated performance. Eric Messner is well cast in the role of John. He plays the extremes of his character well – cold, materialistic, and frightening, then suddenly warm and appealing. He makes us understand Beatrice’s longing for him.

Eric Messner (John) and Beatrice (Jenna Sokolowski). Photo courtesy of The Hub Theatre.

Director Helen Pafumi paces the production well. Under her direction the play’s humor is clear, the  ideas are resonant, and the suspense is nearly unbearable. The tension is heightened by sound designer Neil McFadden’s work. A beating heart and other low-level, subtly nerve-jangling sounds attend the play’s most dangerous moments. Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s simple and functional set, with the help of Lighting Designer John Alexander, is vivid and memorable. A very green chair, a white rug, and red apples are the backdrop for elemental explorations of desire and need.  Emptied and crushed water bottles scattered randomly throughout the room attest to Beatrice’s continual thirst. Costume Designer Maria Vetsch clothes Beatrice in a little girl’s dress-up princess or magic fairy gown, rendering her quest for happy endings all the more plaintive.

Through its language and wiles, John & Beatrice is like a good suitor – the play thoroughly captivates, moves, and seduces.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

John & Beatrice plays through May 5, 2012 at The Hub Theatre at The John Swayze Theatre – 9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, Virginia.  For tickets call (800) 494-8497.