Musical Chairs and Other Diversions was more performance piece than play, but the evening began on an upbeat and gracious note as soon as the audience entered The Actors' Loft. Some wine was offered, some hors d'oeuvres -- and everyone was introduced to everyone else, cast and audience members alike. It was very easy to succumb to this party atmosphere -- shy people were shy no longer, and strangers were just friends you hadn't met yet. And all this before even entering the theatre.
Diversions was first on the agenda, and the audience was treated to five different scenes and monologues, presented as two parts party entertainment and one part audition piece. The quality of the pieces and performances varied, but all were entertaining. First up (in a piece by Johnathan DeVore) was Michael Teigen, who brought tremendous humor to one man's deadly serious recounting of being abducted by aliens. Kip Yates did a scene from Michael Weller's Moonchildren; then came Monica Heber, who was excellent as she told her story of being in a committed relationship with one woman while flirting with the possibility of an affair with another (an excerpt adapted from a novel). Paul Dowell, Andee Kinzy and Jennifer Windus played a scene adapted from The Later Story of Rama (an Indian classic, directed by Windus) which was stylized and absurd; but the three actors managed to make their words compelling, and even touching. Lastly, Teigen and Yates did a scene from another piece by DeVore.
After intermission came the main event, the game of Musical Chairs. Continuing the evening's party theme, the players were a host and hostess (Michael Cavalier and Donna Stearns) and their guests. This was not a conventional game of musical chairs -- no, there was an emcee (Seven Black) asking ludicrous, existential questions that each had to answer. Replying to such things as "What's wrong?", "What's the truth?", and "What makes it better?" the characters responded with preposterous double-talk, gibberish, and self-serving nonsense. The college professor (Guy West), the bubble-headed blond (Celia Gentry), her boyfriend (Adam Lake), the host and hostess -- all answered (or evaded); each endeared, as well as annoyed. Relationships between the characters were clarified by their responses, and then the contestants were eliminated one by one, by audience vote.
Not until the two final players were reduced to one was there much indication of a darker purpose to the endeavor, but even when it became apparent, it wasn't enough to dampen the earlier good spirits. Was the voting swayed by the emcee, or weighted by the Diversions cast members who became part of the audience? Maybe, probably, it didn't matter. At the end, when the emcee invited the audience to continue to party, partying won.
For a slight piece like Musical Chairs, its success is dependent on what the actors bring to it. Generally, the cast made the most of their overwritten, nonsensical answers to the questions, most notably with Gentry successfully treading the line between charming and grating, and Stearns being touchingly evasive, as well as delivering a boffo rendition of an Emily Dickinson poem sung to the melody of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Black was an energetic emcee, and West and Cavalier were properly pompous. The production was spare (chairs--what else?), but it was the actors who brought to the roles nearly everything that was needed.
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Copyright 1998 David Mackler