"A Sermon" began this evening of curtain-raisers, skits, and blackout sketches. This peroration was about nothing much in particular, but David Rasche was superb in translating the author's superficial non-sequiturs into actable life. The same concept was executed somewhat better in Beyond the Fringe a generation ago. But this variation amused and warmed the audience.
In "Sunday Afternoon" the author measured people's lives through somewhat tortured, linguistic perambulations such as "can you find the meaning, don't you see...? No, yes?"
Of course this intelligent author is onto himself. And so, in the midst of one super-bright character's apologia for astrology (acted by David Margulies), the hostess (Elaine Bromka) drips blood on the ham. Suddenly, as the host loses his appetite, his whole world whirls out of control. Therein is the point.
We learn little about the characters in "Joseph Ditenfass." Played well by James Murtaugh and Kristina Lear (who has star quality), their characters come to affect each other deeply in the way an isolated, attractive, older man with too much money can do when he finds himself alone at night with a vital young woman whose off-stage lover is asleep.
Before long the man takes on the author's powerful persona as he stuffs the play with observations that puff out like a toy animal's cotton vitals when cut with a knife. The resulting words float up beautifully, like ghosts into ether.
"Almost Done" was the most poignant play because of its universality. In Ms. Bromka's beautifully crafted monologue, a mother reveals the tragic truth behind what is usually thought of as a son's joyous ascent to manhood. As a son grows, his mother inevitably ages and dies. Then only the son's memory remains, colored with the mysteries of time and sentiment and love.
The final "No One Will Be Immune," about a government investigation, was held over from last year's EST Marathon. Mr. Rasche repeated his fine performance; but Byron Jennings, as the interrogator, seemed a bit stiffer than his predecessor.
The play seemed more passionately focused and funnier this time. Being set amidst other Mamet plays framed the arguments about imagination and speculation much better than previously, when it competed with the voices of more rational playwrights.
Nevertheless a shaggy dog yipped throughout the rhythmic, improvisational writing; and the conclusion still wasn't very satisfying.
These plays couldn't have been better presented, directed, lit, or costumed, given the minimal means at hand. The modular set designed by Kert Lundell conveyed church, police station, or cabin elegantly; and the muted costumes by Barbara A. Bell and effective lighting by Greg McPherson were all quite fine.
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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