Globe Theatres production is powerful in its 'Splendour'

The phone rings. There is an awkward silence, the smell of fear. “”Mariana usually gets it,”” a woman announces to no one in particular, the anxiousness in her voice drowning out all her mock congeniality. This is “”Splendour,”” a play being staged by the Globe Theatres.

Set in an unnamed dictatorship on the brink of revolution, “”Splendour”” is the story of four women: a dictator’s wife, her best friend, a photojournalist and the wife’s translator. Amidst the four, in a single room that they seem by their own obligations unable to escape from, is a provocative mixture of fear, loathing, suspicion, need and trust. A phrase that is often repeated by several of the characters is: “”You don’t need to understand to understand.””

One intriguing element of the play is that its structure is nonlinear. The play only encompasses a single evening, but to the audience, these woman seem to have been in this one room for days or even weeks because the scenes continue to repeat themselves. The repetition, however, is never truly a repetition. Whenever a scene is repeated, the perspective or the angle of the story changes, so that each time the audience views the scene, they are plunged a little deeper into the secrets and lies that each woman possesses.

The set design is also truly impeccable. From the ceiling, hanging permanently horizontal, is a blue chandelier, which periodically alters its colors depending upon the moods of the characters. The women on stage seem oddly unperturbed as they walk past heavily varnished antique furniture, resting upon carpet that has been lightly blanketed with snow. The line drips with irony as Micheleine, the play’s eternal hostess, announces again: “”We need more ice.””

The glitz entangled in chaos is a perfect mirror for the situation the characters now find themselves in. This is especially true for Micheleine, since she struggles to deny the violence of the world as though it was no more important than her constant struggle to defend her carpet against the mud on the feet of her house guests.

The performances of the four actresses are really quite stunning. Micheleine, the dictator’s wife, is played by Gordana Rashovich. This actress is a woman of a thousand faces, or at least facial expressions. Emotions dance across her face when she portrays Micheleine as terrified, over-confident, insecure and above all, always gracious, even when her daughter’s neighborhood is being fire bombed.

Monique Fowler, who portrays Genevieve, the best friend, presents us with a strikingly vulnerable character. The pain radiates off Genevieve like heat. Her strength and simultaneous weakness are tangible things that the audience can quickly grasp hold of. She is easily the most approachable character in the production and it is a testimony to Fowler’s acting that she manages to depict a revealing character who still has much remaining to be revealed.

Chelsey Rives plays Gilma, the translator. Her acting shows great dexterity and timing. She presents a character that could be a tragic and pathetic figure in a fresh, almost comedic light, which makes Gilma seem clever enough, and all the more tragic.

Kathryn, the photographer, is a complex character because it is never clear how much of the other characters’ dialog she can actually comprehend. She doesn’t speak the native language, and yet there’s a certain part of the conversation that she catches intuitively, “”understanding without understanding.”” Joanna Glushak plays Kathryn as an outsider, but is also very much a participant rather than a mere observer.

This play is exhausting, uncomfortable, painful and at times absurd. In a word, it is wonderful.

“”Splendour”” is playing at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage at the Globe Theatres complex in Balboa Park from February 2 to March 16. There are discounts on tickets available for students. For more information call the Globe Theatres box office at (619) 239-2255.