Review by Scott Vogel
In the palace of Rossillion, an improbable series of complications behind them, Helena and Bertram finally enjoy a short kiss, their actions met with adoring grins by fifteen or so on-lookers. It is the memorably ambiguous final tableau of All's Well, and the Judith Shakespeare Company captured it perfectly. With regard to the present production, however, what ended well was, rather, far from all well. Sadly, the play seemed to suffer the last stages of enfeeblement.
This is not to say there weren't many healthy touches. As the sickly king magically transformed by Helena's healing elixir, Scott Eck ruled with passion and abandon, his majestic line-readings bursting out from under the make-up (which seemed to suggest Burt Lancaster's last days). Broadway veteran Merle Louise proved to be a fine choice as the Countess; the actress brought a much-needed courtliness to the show. Alithea Hages's performance veered dangerously close to the sitcom, but her charm and laudable comic talent came to this Diana's rescue just in time. (Jane Culley as the Widow was good for much the same reasons.)
Still, as good as the supporting performers were, the play's success hinges on its Helena and Bertram. Lisa Walker was a comely presence, pretty enough to give most Bertrams pause. But she lacked what Shaw called the "exquisite tenderness and impulsive courage" the role demands. She displayed little love for Bertram and came alive only in her monologues, which she delivered to the balcony -- which the Theatre Row Theatre does not possess.
One's first meeting with the King of France would seem to be a top-ten moment in anyone's life. Ms. Walker's comfort level was a travesty; in one daring stroke she negated all the class differences on which Shakespeare's play depends. Hugh Kelly was fine as a fleeing soldier in the company of men. But Bertram is also a cowardly and hypocritical elitist, not to mention a cunning seducer. Mr. Kelly has not yet learned how to turn his good looks to advantage, at least not onstage, and he had great trouble expressing lustful obsession, or indeed any other pressing desire.
Once distracted by these elements, it became more difficult to focus on the production's other aspects. But Jason Ardizzone's clever storybook set deserves mention. Travelling from Paris to Florence to Marseilles was as simple as turning a page; the flats swung into place with ease, each beautifully painted and adorned with pop-up elements. Kathy Devine's musical interludes were pleasantly period, though one longed for lute and recorder instead of guitar and tin whistle. Guitarist Cesar Manzano's constant presence downstage right meant that music might erupt at any moment. It also meant that Mr. Manzano's inveterate sniffling (owing, one imagines, to an unfortunate cold) would be an annoying distraction during Act One. There were numerous lighting problems during this early performance in the run, thus preventing adequate evaluation of Deborah D'Aleo's work, but Rob Bevenger's costumes were working, and working well. Once more, then, All's Well proves to be a tricky play. Given their past Shakespearean successes, however, this mounting will no doubt prove to be a momentary setback for this terrific young company. (Also featuring Jeffrey Shoemaker, Beth Phillips, K. Elizabeth English, Bill Galarno, Richard Simon, Kevin LeCaon, David Reichhold, Billy Rattner, Julian A. Rozzell, Jr., Ginny Hack, John Dougherty, and Angela Nirvana.)
After a previous issue's screed against age-blind casting in membership companies, this production was not so much a step forward but a step around the problem. The two one-acts had fewer very old characters, making it easier to figure out who was what and what was going on; also, director Eisler appears to have brought in some ringers from his alma mater, Boston University, to enliven the acting pool.
In particular, the two male leads of Countess Mitzie (Count Pazmandy, played by Kelly Groves, and Prince Egon Ravenstein, played by Jeremy Fonicello) showed an aplomb and sensitivity worthy of actors twice their age (which would have put them in the right age range, but enough of that). Also Meredith Kaufman (Mitzie), fresh from B.U., showed a sensitivity to her part. Can it be that expensive university training really correlates with acting ability? You better believe it.
The rather involved story concerns the Prince's illegitimate son's coming of age. (Ali R. Nazemian, late of Brown University, was perfectly cast as the son and showed a pleasant impudence in his role.) It turns out that the son is from the Count's own daughter Mitzie, who has kept the secret all these years. As the play ends, further biographical entanglements loom among the marital raw material left in play -- including the Count's long-time mistress, Lolo (played with flashes of light by Nicol Taylor). Also featuring Glenn Kallison, as the spurned Professor Windhoffer, who portrayed the character solidly but showed uncertain diction, and Kevin Connolly as the servant Peter.
The Maeterlinck is a slighter affair, concerning the unfortunate appearance in a bereaved household of Saint Antony, there to revive the corpse, that of a rich old woman. Everyone tries to keep him from his self-appointed duty: Nicol Taylor, amusingly authentic as the Cockney charwoman; Ivan Martin as one of the sons (needing some help in projection); Kevin Connolly again, with mustache, as another rather frenetic son; Glenn Kallison again as the Pastor, this time with a strange dialect that made his words hard to follow; Jeremy Fonicello, padded and bilious as the Doctor, who never says anything definite, including an opinion as to whether the woman is really dead; and Kelly Groves in a bit part as a cop. None of the parts offered much of an opportunity (or was taken as such) except Taylor's and Nazemian's, the latter as a shining, stern, but youthful saint ready to take names and no backtalk. The ending, perhaps because of a lighting cue, was unclear -- did the saint come back to wreak vengeance?
Speaking of lights, Eisler took up all the risers from the black box and put them down either side of the shoebox-shaped space, so it looked really like a tomb. There were not nearly enough lights to illuminate it evenly, but what there was he directed appropriately at acting areas. Weird but exciting.
Will Eisler's presence -- and that of the college men and women who worked with him -- mark a new chapter at the Impact? (The only negative portent of the production was a lack of audience -- pretty serious business whatever piece of the theatre world is in the spotlight.) Stay tuned to this space; only time will tell.
Last month, the prequel to this second installment of what purports to be an ongoing series was highly praised by oobr's Sarah Stevenson. (A terrifically funny scene entertained last month's Awards Show.) Alas, the current edition lacks the brilliance, sharpness, and comic pacing that made its predecessor so impressive.
The director worked hard to keep things moving, which they did, though sometimes aimlessly. One nice touch was a contest (for golden apples, available at cost from King Midas) cleverly off-staged behind a row of actors' backs.
Ms. Venus (Sheila Morgan, playing a tattooed Wonder-Woman in hostess-heat who takes no prisoners) explains that Cosmic Network canceled the previous Oprah-incarnation in favor of this new and improved late-night Carson talk-alike.
Then, in a series of weak and often inconclusive sketches, the main plot works out whether Aphrodite can snatch Adonis (Ian McGrady) away from Persephone (Paula LaBaredas).
She can't. Meanwhile, Pygmalion (Nathan Eckenrode) grows accustomed to his Galatean harridan's face; Jehovah (Ethan Kent) can't get the ATM machine to work; Perseus (Anthony Rand) slays a cleverly put-together sea serpent; and Socrates (Tony Scarpa), in a two-second "Apology," says he's sorry.
The writing is often at a juvenile level ("So, Jason, what's up with you and the Argonauts?") tossing in such awful puns as "Euripides pants, you pay for dese pants."And did you know that "Spiro Agnew" is an acrostic for "Grow a Penis"?
Linda Pia Ignazi as a terrible stand-up comic ("I'm making ancient history come alive for these people!") was wonderful to watch as her act wilted and died on stage.
Deana Howes was excellent as Pygmalion's frozen statue--until she came to life as a silly Liza Doolittle.
Reginald James played a horn-rimmed, African-American sitcom geek, belying his glistening built-up body.
Nicole Weitz made a good Olympian Valley Girl, and "Duff of Troy" just did his thing on the bass guitar. Alison Pazz should lighten up the pizzazz.
Finally, "Carie" and "Tod," two volunteers pulled on stage from the audience to quiz the Oracle of Delphi about personal problems, held their own in the entertainment category.
The costumes by Erica Nilson were pretty good; especially Aphrodite's see-through, sexy, stylish S&M number, with a necklace bauble that looked like clotted blood.
For some inexplicable reason, all 19 people involved in this version (save one) were different. So many changes posed a question more relevant than the riddle of the Sphinx (which got trotted out at one point): Why did they do it? And when do they announce the replacement?
A hot summer afternoon in NYC, two plays: one about a hospital, old age, incontinence, death; the other about hospitals, child molestation -- you might maybe prefer the beach? But, as so often in the Off-Off-Broadway experience, there are pleasant surprises. These two plays presented by the Rubicon Theatre Company in the comfortable and very well air-conditioned Miranda Theatre were well-written and -acted, with production values to match.
Christopher Mack's Father is a somewhat slight but well-written little play of 30 minutes set in a hospital ward, where a middle-aged woman, Cordelia, has come to her father's deathbed. From time to time, a doctor enters and checks the father's vital signs. Cordelia rails at her father for being "mean and numb, stony and silent," and she implores him to shout at her in his accustomed way: "Yell at me, please, Dad, please." Her father makes only a couple of sounds and then dies. The play conveys almost nothing about Cordelia and her life except that her father once ruined a prospective date. Jenny Sterlin was a convincing daughter and, in true Clintonian fashion, "we felt her pain." The play effectively conveyed the hospital sterility and the ultimate loneliness of a death in the family. Larry Guardino was the father and Wiley Moore an efficient but distant doctor. Lynne McCollough directed smoothly.
After the appetizer came the substantial entrée, Valerie Windsor's Effie's Burning. We find Effie is what her abusive and disgusted father called his daughter. Her real name is Gloria, "after her mother's favorite actress, Gloria Swanson." Effie is in a hospital being treated for severe burns suffered when she tried to burn down the nursing home to which she had been moved from a larger institution. She preferred the latter and was angry that "they" had taken away her close friend, labeled "a disruptive influence", who later died. Effie -- who, it develops, at 60 has a mental age of ten -- was frequently as a child sexually assaulted by village boys. She became pregnant and was institutionalized by her parents as "a moral defective." The play is in the form of a monologue by her doctor, Dr. Kovacs, and dialogue between the Doctor and Effie.
Dr. Kovacs herself is unhappy in her job, as she has been told that she tends to "over-identify" with and be overly sensitive to the patients. She finally confronts her supervisor (whom Sterlin also portrays), the pompous and patronizing surgeon, Mr. Jessup Brown. Gradually, she gets Effie to admit that she started the fire and ... well, that's it. Ms. Windsor is a very promising playwright who gave us two to care about. Her writing is smooth and polished, and Dr. Kovacs's engrossing monologues were beautifully delivered by the engaging and sympathetic Karen Leiner. As Effie, a completely different role from her portrayal in the first play, it was Ms. Sterlin who was now in the hospital bed, and she skillfully conveyed her anxieties and the pathos of that traumatic moment when she was taken away to be warehoused in the mental institution: "My mother, face like stone, watched as they took me away." This talented actress elicited tears as she heard of the death of her friend Alice. Nice work!
Fine direction by Michael Hunter Lilly, with some very convincing bandaging and unbandaging of Effie's burns. The many transitions from monologue to dialogue never became overly episodic. Good set and lighting by Matt Sterlin and Diane Carter, respectively.
The success of an evening of one-act plays can depend as much on the choice and order of the material as its quality. A middling drama about aging men in a prostate cancer ward, for instance, is not the best choice to conclude a three-hour program. That the evening dragged on for three hours was a mistake in itself. John Montgomery Theatre Company could have improved its recent compilation of one-acts, produced under the title Encore, by cutting out the middle piece and reversing the order of the plays.
That would have saved the best for last--an affectionate comedy by Liz Bartucci titled They Eat Their Young. Although somewhat cliched, this tale of two losers who find each other was basically enjoyable. It also was the only one of the plays with any humor. Claudine Alfano outacted her co-star, Steve Mize, but together they made an appealing enough couple. Alfano combined effective facial expressions and fluctuating emotions to deliver a performance that evoked much sympathy.
Starting a triple bill with the strongest piece, as JMTC did with They Eat Their Young, is a good way to win over audience members quickly, but it sets them up for disappointment and tedium if the subsequent plays are as flat as Jump Start and Danny Boy, the second and third parts of Encore.
Suzanne Bachner's Jump Start featured the versatile Felicia Scarangello as four racters: a doddering old grandmother, a boorish suburban father, a heartbroken young homosexual, and a hyperactive 1l-year-old boy. Scarangello's acting was laudable, but the monologues were disjointed and unengaging. The connection between the four characters was an unseen person named Katie, but she was marginally important to the stories--only one of which reached any kind of denouement. Furthermore, the unnecessary slides projected behind--and sometimes on--the actress were distracting, as was her costume: a little black dress that belonged in a Bob Fosse chorus line rather than on a woman playing male characters. The decision to cast a female in these roles was questionable too. Expanded, Jump Start could work as a full-length solo show, but it was too long and incoherent for a one-act.
Danny Boy, the finale of the evening, simply wasn't very interesting. In this play by Robert L. Bachner, a battle with cancer forces two old friends to confront their mortality and take care of unfinished business with loved ones. The dialogue was trite, the resolution unspectacular, and the frequent yelling inappropriate for the hospital setting.
Each play in Encore ran at least 40 minutes, which is too long to be combined with two others; including intermission, the show ran almost a full three hours. JMTC has fared better with previous one-act compilations (a production last season received an OOBR Award)--chalk this one up to summer doldrums. (Also featuring Bill Mullen, Stan Carp, William Green, Gregory Braun, Lee Leonard, and Richard Penn; sets, Thom Fudal and Matthew Anderson; costumes, Anne Guay; lighting, Jennifer Ponder.)
After the first two short plays in this evening (Sam Shepard's Gary Cooper or the Landscape and David Mamet's The Dog), whose program notes were unencumbered with directors' credits, it would have seemed fitting if a disembodied voice had spoken from the back of the theatre: "That was good. Now try it like this...."
The two entries seemed like episodes from scene-study classes because they hadn't gelled yet. In Cooper, an anonymous-seeming couple (he obviously American, she less obviously Swedish), talk about American movie icons. Perhaps if they had been more American or more Swedish -- perhaps if any directorial choice had been imposed -- some subtext would have been squeezed out of the text. (Hank Foley and Kate Ross.)
Writing: 0 Directing: 0 Acting: 1
In The Dog, Jeremy Taylor had a heart-to-heart with his pet canine, who suffers from occasional domestic incontinence. The episode cried out for a voice telling the actor to employ some physical memory of a dog-owning past.
Writing: 0 Directing: 0 Acting: 1
Carlo Trigiani's Forgive Me Father, directed by the author, showed an upturn in the directing department. It is about a young man (Tom Ryan) going to Confession for the first time in umpteen years and finding that changes in the Church make it hard to communicate -- not because of his own guilt, but because of the culture gap. Again, more subtext could have been squeezed out between the lines, but at least the story had a beginning, middle, and end. If anything, it was too simplistic -- sort of like an industrial short, So You Want to Be a Priest. (Also featuring Gerry Lehane.) Both actors gave interesting performances, as though they really cared about their respective parts.
Writing: 1 Directing: 1 Acting: 2
John Patrick Shanley's A Lonely Impulse of Delight, about a young man in love with a mermaid, makes the mistake of having the mermaid (who until the end could be interpreted as an illusion) be heard calling to him from offstage, thus destroying an interesting theatrical ambiguity. It contains a good line: "Wait a second -- she's a freshwater mermaid?" Performances by Hank Foley and Jeremy Taylor, and direction by Katherine Taormina, did little to infuse the necessary midsummer magic into the script.
Writing: 0 Directing: 1 Acting: 1
The evening's entree, Chris Koulouris's Dogs and Rabbits (directed by Lissa Moira), pits a harried businessman (Jeff Zukowski) and a loony magician (Neil Levine) against each other on a lonely station platform. (Strange, since the businessman's train is heading home -- it would be more believable for the platform to be at Grand Central or Penn Station.) The outrageously dressed magician, whose moods switch from bathetic to depressed to aggressive, lost his rabbit -- well, he finally remembers, he actually ate it -- on this very platform 14 years previous and wants to enlist the businessman's aid in finding it. Each character has a monolog near the end -- the magician's about a green scarf, the businessman's about riding on the train -- but neither casts much light on the story. (Even Absurdist plays go somewhere. Repetition has its place, but not repetition for its own sake.)
What does become clear is that the businessman, through his self-admitted obsession with his job to the exclusion of all else, is slowly stripping away all the accouterments that make him a human being. But the moment whizzed by faster than a speeding Bullet Train.
More thoughts on dialect work: while the Swedish number at the top of the evening cried out for some local color, Levine's questionable Cockney was almost opaque and completely unnecessary to the play.
Writing: 0 Acting: 1 Directing: 1
Overall Box Score: Set 0 Costumes 1 Lights/Sound: 0 Return to OOBR Index Return to Home Page
In her biography, playwright Silvia Gonzalez S. states that she wants to write works that provide good roles for women and actors of color. With her play Waiting Women, she accomplished her goal brilliantly. Unfortunately, she accomplished little more.
Waiting Women is seemingly the story of Pearl Hart, a spunky young woman who in 1879 "went west, like the rest of 'em" to pan for gold. Not finding any, she knocks around in the best Candidelike fashion until, down on her luck, she robs a stage coach, is caught, and is sent to prison. But before she goes to the big house, she becomes the darling of the media, who label her "Bandit Girl," an appellation by which she becomes known far and wide. What Waiting Women is really about, however, is how a misguided though well-meaning young woman (Pearl) has her consciousness raised by a group of feminists (her cellmates, most of whom are of color), who show her how they have been exploited by society.
The writing by Ms. Gonzalez S. is very problematic. The play was a long two-and-a-half hours, and numerous times it seemed as if both acts had ended, when the players reappeared to perform more scenes. In addition, the piece is not well-structured; for although the story is generally about Pearl, she disappears for large chunks of time while other stories are focused on. While the characters are extremely well-drawn, the dialogue is deadly earnest. Lines such as "many women have endured your hardship of rape" abound, and are like lead weights around the neck of the play.
On the positive side, the production by Mutt Repp was excellent. The direction by Liz Ortiz-Mackes was thorough and all-encompassing. The set by Shawn Lewis was simple, yet used the entire performance space brilliantly. The costumes by Karen Rowland were lovely. And the lights by Aimee Schneider were subtle yet effective.
The cast did some fine ensemble work, with not one weak performance in the lot. Standing out were Emma Palzere as Mae, Eileen Galindo as Fanny, Elizabeth Flax as Opal, Greg Mulpagano as the Guard, and Judy Alvarez, who was very energetic as Pearl. It is unfortunate that so much good work was done on a play that so sorely needed fixing. While the story of women out West is more than worthy of dramatization, Ms. Gonzalez S. has taken the period and some interesting characters, and pushed them through the strainer of feminist theory. If only she had taken a different route. (Also featuring Beth Ann Charles, Daniel Damiano, Stacey Miller, Melanee Murray, Dan Remmes, Liza Sabater-Tirado, Elena Soto-Raspa, and Don Wilson Glenn.)
Romeo and Juliet nearly got lost in the crowd in this production of Romeo and Juliet, as some very good and some truly weak performances by supporting actors detracted from the central love story. Stellar performances by Carolyn Sullivan-Zinn as the Nurse and Brian McDaniel as Mercutio were countered by such casting blunders as Aris Alvarado as Paris and Howard I. Laniado as the Prince. Sullivan-Zinn and McDaniel displayed an excellent command of the language and dominated all the scenes they were in. They used both their resourcefulness as actors and their respect for Shakespeare's intentions to flesh out their characters. Laniado, on the contrary, blankly whispered his lines (which included the prologue) and was neither regal nor forceful. Alvarado, meanwhile, looked and acted like a cross between the Newman character on "Seinfeld" and an applicant for a low-level job with the Mafia.
Vivien Landau was an elegant Lady Capulet and, along with Sullivan-Zinn and McDaniel, one of the few cast members who projected well. Some actors ignored the demands of Shakespearean verse and spoke as though they were reading today's newspaper. This resulted in graceless performances by Leone Michel (Benvolio) and Jack Rewkowski (the servant Peter), among others.
As for Romeo and Juliet, Michael McFadden and Lynnea Benson generally sufficed without setting off sparks. Although they were far from teenagers, the two looked youthful enough for their age not to be disconcerting. Benson lacked Juliet's lovely countenance, but her acting got stronger as the play progressed; she was more effective in the scenes where Juliet is in distress than in those where she's in love. McFadden sneered and leered a bit too much but effected Romeo's dreaminess and had an Elizabethan air about him.
Director Ted Zurkowski's staging of certain scenes was misguided. The lovers stayed too far apart for too long in the balcony scene, and Romeo's outrage at the slaying of his friend Mercutio seemed like a delayed reaction. The killing of Tybalt was much more powerful, but Tybalt's later appearance as a "ghost" was clumsy. Zurkowski also overused a corner of the stage that served variously as Juliet's bedroom, Friar Lawrence's cell and the mortuary. The curtains enclosing this area were drawn too frequently, and occasionally--as in the final scene--too many bodies were crowded into the space.
The costumes gowns for the ladies (designed by Michael Podznyakov) and contemporary pants and shirts for the gentlemen -- were fine. The sword fights, directed by Angela Bonacasa, were excellent. Original violin music by Josie Fogle (who played Lady Montague) added a nice touch. (Also featuring Douglas Stone, Hal Smith-Reynolds, Eric Masters and Robert Pillitteri.)
This new musical is about a man in his 20s (Daniel G. O'Brien) who had just begun to rise up the ladder of business by becoming a manager when he got laid off. In his funk, he hangs around the house with uptight Mom (Rebecca Nelson) and his disturbed brother Joe Joe.
Sealove seems to be having a mid-20s crisis, much like Ben in The Graduate, but there's no Mrs. Robinson to rescue the story. He moons about, flirting with a multi-level marketing scheme touted by a former Est devotee.
The story meanders, but there's some amusing stuff along the way, much of it to do with the church services Mother likes to attend, led by Father Bob (Daniel Pardo) with devilish élan. (The congregation chants, "God Is Kick Ass.") John Postley played both the music director and the Est/MLM guru with equal glee. Another gem was a scene between Sealove and a hapless clerk (Julie Wright), in which Sealove hypnotically convinces her that only she knows best how to do her job, and selling him beer without proper ID is how to best fulfill her function of keeping the public happy. She turns his argument around by asking for a three-dollar bribe, which she supports by saying that only she can determine how best to do her job.... A brilliant satire on the sort of management-training claptrap that infects the corporate world these days.
The book's lack of drama stems not just from lack of a a good story but from an inherent lack of conflict to do with the zombie-like protagonist. Perhaps if Sealove had been 50, he'd have had some distance to fall; instead, he was a fledgling that has fallen out of the nest before learning to fly, and just lies there, pathetic. Even his haircut made him look like a Gen-Xer.
The apparently unrhymed lyrics leaned a bit in the spare direction but eschewed the obvious and engaged the mind. The music was lean and not at all mean, especially as performed by the Hicks-led orchestra. While rock-inspired, it tried hard to support rather than drown out the lyrics.
Performances all around went to the heart of the characters, although only Joe Joe's depressed teenhood seems to offer much complexity (compellingly presented as a trouser role by Emily Bank).
The scenery (Dawn Robyn Petrlik), Astroturf on the floor and scattered furniture, combined suggestiveness with enough space for the actors to move around. There was also a painted landscape of suburban houses that was lit from time to time. The lights, designed by Alexandra E. Radocchia, included heavy warm floods from the sides during the daylight, lawnmowing scenes and mixed, saturated-color back light during interior scenes, an interesting combination. Melissa Johnson's costumes lent understated support. (Also featuring Jay Snyder.)
Nash-Siedlecki is to be credited with focusing (and pacing) the production, which doesn't appear to jump off the page and shout. Maybe Hicks will take another look at his creation and command it to do just that.
Since the word "farce" originates from the French farci, it is hardly surprising that such plays are "stuffed" with complex plots, endless coincidences, sparkling wit, and no small amount of slapstick. Productions of farces are often further stuffed, or in this case overstuffed, with desperate attempts to "punch-up" humor that is assumed to be dated. Allegra Schorr, in her director's introduction to Feydeau's Brothers in Crime, is hopeful that "we can still enjoy the lessons of the past," but there is more than a hint of resignation here. Her solution? To serve up a generous helping of ham farci -- a dish here defined as an evening of mugging and overgesticulation by actors. Given the obvious talent of the performers here, this should never have happened.
For his part, David Davalos, the director of Sganarelle, was not content with eye-popping stares and homages to the Three Stooges. He "added" modernization to the comic mix. This was an interesting premise, but it seemed haphazardly tacked on. While the pre-show music was '80s, lovebeads and hiphuggers suggested '60s (great costumes by Nan Young); furthermore, it is impossible to state what comment on either the play or society was intended by all this time-travelling.
Farces must be stuffed, but never randomly. Feydeau, ever protective of his recipe, once insisted that "vaudevilles must be played as if they were a tragedy. Their intentions are betrayed by playing them like a farce." In Brothers, the characters are in a deadly serious situation: all indications are that a murderer has entered their living room. But one would never know it from the broad grins and exaggerated mannerisms shown here, gestures that only undermined the play's great comedy. (No offense is intended to the actors here. It would be a treat to see Trent Dawson, Alyson Reim, and Robert Bowen, Jr., under different directorial circumstances.) It is, however, a pleasure to report that the dog (Dinky) broke character only rarely, yawning several times from his perch on a desk. He must have ... no, that would be too easy.
Speaking of the desk, and of the sets in general, James Basewicz's pink-and-gray arched structure and Jacqueline Lowry's lighting were just right. Doors flew open and slammed shut completely, and never once did the entire edifice wobble, as is so often the case.
Often wobbling violently, and to amusing effect, was Ed Baker, in Sganarelle's title role; there were also hints of depth in his reading of the great soliloquy to Honor. As the guardian Lisette, Julia McLaughlin was also notable, both for her line readings and the charming way in which she drank a slurpee. As for the rest, a little friendly directorial advice, courtesy Eric Bentley: "The amateur actor misses it, and tries to act the gaiety. The professional knows that he must act the gravity and trust that the author has injected gaiety into his plot and dialogue." The American Globe Theatre is a dynamic company, with the kind of vigor and polish that other troupes can only envy. It is to be hoped that their next production will not be a farce (both senses intended).
The title refers to that aspect of a Quaker meeting where individuals get up and speak if they feel the Spirit "leading" them. It took New Jersey Puritan John Woolman until he was a young man before he had a clear leading, but when he did, he spoke out against slavery -- this over 100 years before the Civil War. This intriguing piece, derived from Woolman's diary, portrays Woolman from teenager to older man (he died at 52 of smallpox while visiting England on an anti-slavery tour).
Obviously very sincere in matters of religion, Swingle hasn't let matters of devotion get in the way of creating an entertaining, interesting, and moving theatre piece. He played Woolman as an older man and as a 19-year-old, as well as portraying his boss, Michael Worthington, two slaves, and a slaveowner and former chum, Amos Ellis. In the course of the play, Woolman develops from callow youth to thoughtful and independent adult. The presence of the other characters gives Woolman something to develop against, as, for instance, when one slave dies, unburdening himself most frankly against white slaveowners, under his care. Another is almost lynched by Ellis, and there is genuine suspense while Woolman engineers a reverse slave auction to buy the slave back and save his life, an action that commits Woolman to the path of anti-slavery. Woolman's character is shown warts and all, and his life becomes a process of slowly getting rid of those warts and starting his own ministry.
None of this would have worked were Swingle not an extremely competent actor, able to bring all these characters to life with a minimum of props, a couple of set pieces, and authentic-looking costume.
Two notes that made the production especially interesting were a minute of Quaker worship during intermission (no one had a clear leading and spoke up, though) and a question-and-answer session by John Woolman -- that is, Swingle still in character -- after the show.
While Swingle has obviously inhaled a large helping of the epoch of which he writes, he had trouble with some lines during the performance reviewed -- particularly with all the Puritan names -- but not so as to mar significantly an otherwise outstanding performance.
Lights, by Buddy Mungo and Corey Getzel, supported the moods of the piece well.
Comedians Sean Conroy and Eddie Pepitone must be doing something right, or else they have an awful lot of friends and relatives. It can't be easy selling out even the cozy Solo Arts Group consistently on a Tuesday evening, even as the opener for an act of "Chicago long-form" improvisation by the larger (and quite talented) troupe The Hammerheads.
Their sketches showed much comic invention, with Pepitone as the funny guy and Conroy as the straight man. Thus, Pepitone as a stripper, bearer of a strip-o-gram, got to bare his overweight, middle-aged body. He also played an overmatched palooka whose second continued to send him back in the ring because he could answer obscure trivia questions, and, in a running gag, the Sammy "The Bull"-inspired Tony Tattatucci, whose career as a government informant is hindered by budget cuts -- so that the government, for instance, instead of moving him to another city and giving him another name, can only move him to another apartment and give him a new middle initial. (They also get him a job -- panhandling a block from his apartment -- with a sign, "I'm not Tony Tattatucci.")
In another sketch, Tattatucci tries to bug the Provolone family headquarters. Instead of a body mike and concealed camera, though, the government can afford only a full-sized microphone and video camera and a suitcase full of illicit drugs that T.T. is supposed to plant there.
Conroy fed the manic lion Pepitone, but unsung colleague (and uncredited director) John Telfer wielded the broom after him. While most of the time he efficiently moved set pieces around the stage between bits, he got one moment to shine -- as a hit man sent to blow Tattatucci away. He's just a temp, see, so he can't call off the hit when the guy who hired him -- a capo in the Provolone family -- tries to cancel it. He even has to read a message from an index card while pointing a gun at his victim.
The follow-up act, a series of tag-team improvisations on an audience suggestion, had moments of brilliance but is not yet a likely threat to the glories of Second City. But if it can serve as a launching pad for the likes of Conroy and Pepitone, it serves its purpose well.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, on which John Corins has apparently based this perplexing adaptation, is itself perplexing -- a three-thousand-year-old Babylonian text preserved for all posterity on eleven crumbling tablets, all of them unearthed just a century ago. The story, insofar as can be made out, concerns the life and foibles of Gil, the King of Uruk, who, despite wealth and notoriety, suffers from an aching sense of loneliness and a desire for immortality. He was, in short, the first celebrity, and many a Hollywood deity might conceivably profit by a close reading of this ancestral soul-searching. Illiterate celebrities might instead view Mr. Corins's version, the language and plotlines of which are as accessible as any soap opera. This made for an entertaining if unimaginative evening, chock-full of everything from pageantry to stick-fighting. Everything, that is, save the Epic of Gilgamesh.
It is enough of an offense that the text was stripped of poetry and grandeur. The playwright, however, has also had the temerity to play fast-and-loose with the saga's ending. Sober wisdom and even pessimism in the original are here supplanted by a sense of hope delivered by, of all things, Christianity.
In one of the most audacious moments in recent Off-Off-Broadway history, Mesopotamia's great epic ends with a sign-of-the-cross and recitations of the "Our Father." A stunning example of hubris, that.
Understandably, some of the actors seemed to conclude that this material could only work as a Gilgamesh parody. As the god Shamash, Jon Cable bellowed and double-taked like the fine comic actor he is, during several of Mr. Corins's well-scripted comic moments. But an exceptional performance -- perhaps even brilliant, given the circumstances -- was turned in by Brian Luna as Enkidu, Gilgamesh's lifelong companion. Mr. Luna's vitality and natural talent were sculpted to perfection by director Burgos. The fight scenes between Enkidu and Gilgamesh (Matthew Clouston, who also designed the expert choreography) were thrilling, almost as mesmerizing as the later tender moments between the pair; Enkidu's death scene was particularly affecting. Memorable performances were also turned in by John Reiniers and Leila Warren.
The costumes (by Michael Jalbert) were a confusing mix of ancient and modern: topsiders peeked out from under cloaks, and tunics seemed to come courtesy of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It was an "eclectic" mix, as they say, the designs seemingly lacking in direction or point. In other words, the costuming was perfect for this version of Gilgamesh, which is in need of some serious rethinking.