‘Visit’ is an outing to remember

Kristen DiLeonardo

“The Visit” is a brilliant tragedy. Before I had even entered the theater this weekend, I was bombarded with reviews for Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Visit.”

Since no one knew I was reviewing the play, I am sure they were unbiased opinions. Not one comment was negative; everyone seems to love “The Visit” and I am no different. But truthfully, you must be warned this is one disturbing visit.

“The Visit” takes place in present day Gullen, a little European town. This modern day Greek tragedy is a tale of love, contempt and revenge. A bitter old woman with an ominous sense of humor pays a visit to her former hometown.

The town is destitute and poverty-stricken, and its inhabitants have become weary and downhearted. As we first see the townspeople, they are watching the ever passing trains go by and reminiscing of how wonderful Gullen used to be.

A glimmer of hope shines through their bleak existence when Clair Zachanassian, a native of their hometown and millionairess, returns to the town.

Luckily one of the town’s most beloved citizens, Alfred Ill, and Claire were once in love. Naturally, with his help, they expect her monetary assistance and have high expectations of Gullen rising out of the ashes.

Madam Zachanassian is escorted by a caravan of unforgettable lackeys: Boby, Roby, Toby, Koby, Loby and her seventh husband Moby. Seemingly strange names at first – until their meaning is revealed: they have all been renamed. Her butler’s name is Boby and since butlers are for life all other men must be made to fit accordingly. Her butler, gangsters, eunuchs and array of husbands make for humorous moments among an evil train of events.

The millionairess has agreed to give the town a gift of one billion marks … but there is one condition. To find out what that condition is, run and buy your tickets to see “The Visit” … you will not believe your ears.

The dark comedy and unpredictable nature of the events that unfold will shock and bewilder you. The playbill calls it, “Durrenmatt, questioning how the most civilized people can rationalize the most irrational of circumstances.”

The town becomes so obsessed with money that they wind up loving the enemy. They progress from tattered clothes and dismal existences to fancy clothes and expensive liquors. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the play is the infiltration of new shiny yellow shoes.

Joanna Rotte commands the stage as Claire Zachanassian; her performance is unforgettable. Rotte is a writer, actor and director her vast experience includes directing a number of Villanova University performances. Her portrayal of Madam Zachanassian is outstanding. She brings a strong presence and enormous talent to the production.

Alfred Ill played by Stephen Patrick Smith is the most sympathetic and contemptible character in “The Visit;” as a viewer you can never be sure whether to love or hate him. As an actor, viewers definitely love him.

Alfred Ill’s disgraceful past has been forgotten with time and he has become a beloved citizen of Gullen for over 70 years. When this past is drudged up everything changes. Smith’s performance is so compelling that even though morally the audience should detest him, they still feel sympathy and a strong emotional connection to him.

Brian Manelski, Elizabeth Pool, Matt Livingstone and Shaun Malleck also give exceptional performances. Manelski is a part time graduate student at Villanova and this is his third performance in the Villanova Theatre. His portrayal of the professor in “The Visit” is gripping. He is the academic and moral center of Gullen, and the only one who will speak out for what he believes in.

The mayor of Gullen, as played by Pool, is the perfect desperate town leader who will stop at nothing to ensure the one billion marks. Livingstone is a second year graduate assistant in set construction and Malleck is a Villanova sophomore and his debut Vasey performance was “Summer and Smoke.”

Livingstone and Malleck are superb as Koby and Loby, the little weird eunuchs. They are hauntingly creepy and yet awesomely captivating. The part they play is indescribable and you must see it to believe it.

In addition to these roles, Livingstone plays the Stationmaster and Radio Commentator; Malleck plays Sexton, Ticket Inspector and the Camera Man.

The cast has great chemistry and they put on a spectacular performance. Jonathan Carr, an adjunct theater professor at Villanova, directs “The Visit.” The sound effects, lighting and set design are exceptionally impressive.

Although the theme of “The Visit” may be depressing and leave you with a pessimistic view of humanity it is well worth the three hours. You can never be sure how far this town will go for money.

I was unsure of what to expect from “The Visit,” but I was pleasantly surprised; everyone involved has shaped a spectacular production.

“The Visit” debuted on Nov. 9. Up next for Villanova Theatre is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” starting on Feb. 15. Be sure to become a part of the Theatre’s fantastic run.