The Beginning of the And

Three one-acts, by Daniel Roberts and Sam Roberts
Directed by Sam Roberts
Audax Theatre Group
Chelsea Playhouse
125 W. 22nd St. (539-3822)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 28)
Review by John Chatterton

Daniel Roberts, who wrote two of these plays and co-wrote one, has an offbeat imagination. In Orange, co-written with brother Sam, the eponymous seller of antiques lives with his mother above their shop. Dumpy, middle-aged Orange practices greeting beautiful women and giving away the glory of the family collection, a Chippendale chair (priced at $119,000). One day an attractive woman (Kelly Demaret) comes in (she thinks it’s a yard sale) and he is so flabbergasted he indeed gives her the chair. Unfortunately, she has a boyfriend (Reginald James, to whom Orange behaves badly), and doesn’t stay for dinner and an intended marriage proposal. (James didn’t get to do much with his role.)

Eddie Pepitone as Orange pushed his role to its limits, but no further, laying bare every fleeting, base thought of this manic gnome of a character, from imagined lust to fawning adulation to fear and contempt of his jowly, domineering mother (Ruth Ray). (Director Roberts has apparently gone to school on Fawlty Towers, encouraging his male leads to emulate John Cleese.) The lighting was subtle, including back lighting that gradually shifted to orange as teatime turned to dinnertime. The visible set pieces (those not dust-covered) were junky enough; the Chippendale-looking chair sure looked authentic to an untutored eye.

Ost takes place in another petit-bourgeois establishment, a bed-and-breakfast run by the fragile Fi (Heather Raffo) and the simp Monsieur (Brad Thomas). Their rural tranquility (the biggest thing thereabouts is the Totem Pole Museum) is violated by the arrival of guests Ost (as in ostentatious; played by Daniel Tisman) and Lila (Diane Gnagnarelli). Where Pepitone went to the top but no further as Orange, Tisman went over the top and then some as the ultra-snobbish kleptomaniac Ost, who not only thinks vile thoughts about his companions but doesn’t hesitate to express them. But the excesses of characterization were in keeping with Fi and Lila (Thomas didn’t seem to be playing on quite the same frequency). Fi reacted to hostility by saying, “Fuh fuh fuh … Fie on you!,” kneeling on a chair with her back turned, and mooing. The set pieces and props were way above par for Off-Off-Broadway; the lighting, however, left much to be desired, as harsh side lights created jagged hot spots all over the stage.

Apps is set in a bar. A young man, John (Dana Watkins), walks in to make a reservation for dinner with his new bride. Two barflies, Meyers (Dave Gibson) and Mr. Burns (Tisman again) attempt to mess with his head, as barflies are wont to do. They so enthrall John that he almost skips out on his wife, but a stiff martini brings him to his senses. Gibson and Tisman shone in this play, the former as a lower-class Woody Allenish expert on appetizers (which he calls “apps”); the latter as (possibly) Ringo Starr, with a respectable Liverpool dialect. Reginald James played the knowing, grave bartender with more variety (and fewer lines) than his previous role. In this play the lighting was in general deliberately dark, except for the specials on the martini and the bartender, sometimes at the expense of the characters’ faces. Costumes included a green Qiani-like shirt for Mr. Burns and a blue Hawaiian shirt for Meyers.

None of these plays has a very solid ending, but that didn’t stop their individual journeys from being intensely watchable and fun, especially in the hands of these fine actors. Daniel Roberts has a bright future as a comic writer. The sets (Jennier Revitt) and costumes (Megan Shand) showed a painstaking attention to detail. The acting and directing were sharp and focused. All in all, an absorbing and worthwhile evening of theatre.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton