Theater review: ‘The Standard Bearer’ at SFS Theatre
It’s 1980, and although the sun may have not yet set on the British Empire, it seems to be down to its last feeble rays in playwright Stephen Wyatt’s satirical monologue, “The Standard Bearer,” smartly directed by Julian Sands at SFS Theatre.
The prospect of bearing standards proves dicey for a hammy thespian on a dismal tour of the west African former colony he’d visited 30 years ago at the start of his career. Played by Neil Dickson with perfectly modulated self-importance and cultural cluelessness, the unnamed actor has arrived late for his performance in a remote schoolhouse, after a nightmare trek through the bush that has incapacitated his costar wife.
Determined to honor his professional commitment, he stands in sweat-stained clothes pompously reciting passages from the plays, punctuated with whispered pleas for help from his unseen stage manager. Sands’ staging delights in depicting the tropes of no-budget theater to which the hapless actor must resort, from mouthing trumpet fanfares to taking both roles in the scenes he’d intended to perform with his no-show wife.
The piece cuts deeper than mere parody, however. The actor’s increasingly confessional and embarrassing ad-libs reveal a nasty imperialist condescension so deeply ingrained he’s not even aware of it — which makes it all the more disturbing and pathetic.
The back story emerging from his personal revelations also cleverly mirrors the thematic downward spiral in the Shakespeare excerpts he performs, starting with the patriotic zeal of Henry V, through the treachery of the Macbeths, the jealous rage of Othello, and culminating in Cardinal Wolsey’s “long farewell to all my greatness.” Here, the end of Empire proves an amusingly shabby one indeed.
— Philip Brandes
“The Standard Bearer,” SFS Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Nov. 12. $20. (818) 424-0282 or www.plays411.com/standardbearer. Running time: 50 minutes.
Photo: Neil Dickson. Credit: Judy Geeson