Review of Program Two

As posted on Nashville Theatre Lost and Found website by visiting reviewer Trudy S. Gordon.  Thank you, Trudy!

NEW PERSPECTIVE FESTIVAL


San Diego, California
Guest Review
JUNE 2009

While I was sitting in Shakespeare Pub last weekend, enjoying a pint with a number of now-too-rarely seen ex-pat friends in San Diego, California (headquarters, if you do not know, to the British American Society and home of many ex-pats) one of my companions mentioned a local theatre festival in which I might be interested.  The owner and producer, I was told, was a relatively recent transplant from Nashville, whom I might have seen on stage there.  I was intrigued.  A night of theatre with good friends and a Nashville connection?  You bet your sweet bippy.

After a bit of conversation with festival owner Kelly Lapczynski, my west-coast theatre friend begged a favour: would I write a review of the evening’s entertainment?  As I was more than a few miles from my regular readership, I wondered what use my words might be until my friend explained the purpose of his request.  You see, the festival is comprised of three programs of eight short plays each – for a total of 24 scripts written, performed, and directed by San Diego Theatre Artists in a format meant to market their talents to the local community of folks who might eventually hire them – Artistic Directors and Casting Agents – and to promote them through the media (for more on the mission of the festival, visit its website at perspectivefest.com).  As it happened, I would be seeing the only program (Program Two) which none of the local critics were available to attend due to other openings around town, and which (we were told) featured some worthy talent who would not otherwise be recognized. 

How could I say no to that?  I am more than happy to recognize them with this guest review.  So let’s begin, shall we?

* * *
Program Two began with Craig Abernethy’s SWELL, which would seem (given the dialogue) to be a simple piece about two under-educated and over-confident long-term employees of Corporate America relishing their territorial superiority over the better-educated and abler new hire.  Director Mark Stephan, however, added a layer of odd irony to the piece with a play on the word “swell,” having his new hire become pregnant, progress through 9 months of gestation, and give birth on stage all during the self-important droning of her co-workers.  The stunning Laura Kaplan hit the comedy notes and struck some attractive poses, while Mary Deaton gamely produced progeny without pulling focus.  Kristina Bender also appeared.

Next was Michael Clark’s AMUSE BOUCHE, which I am told is appropriately named for its serving as the author’s selection as a taste of his longer work, L’ATELIER ROUGE.  As the concerned waiter in Thomas Keller’s Matisse “bouchon,” Brendon Slater is a true talent, underplaying the role nicely and creating a character with whom we want to spend much more time.  As restaurant patrons, Tom Andrew gives a good but predictable performance as the unlikable husband and Leticia Martinez delivers her lines as his wife in a monotone which does not serve the piece.  Martinez is new to the craft, though, and shows promise.

Following AMUSE BOUCHE, we find Brendon Slater has slipped backstage to direct Jacqueline Goldfinger’s excellent HIS LAST FIGHT, well cast with Terence J. Burke in the role of the once-great fighter Palooka and Sara Moneymaker in the role of the young, female boxer he tries to convince to “go home.”  Reed Willard is seen momentarily, and in fine form, at the end of the play, but heard offstage through much of it as the announcer who gives us the unfortunate play-by-play when “The Kid” shakes off Palooka’s advice for an ill-fated fight.  My only complaint with this piece was that Burke chose to exude his power through his voice, allowing his volume and accent too often to overpower his words and make him difficult to understand.

Rounding out the first act was David Wiener’s FEEDING TIME AT THE HUMAN HOUSE, one of the more creative bits of short writing I’ve seen in a long time – an opinion borne out by the fact that while this script was in rehearsal for the San Diego festival it was winning accolades in New York, where it won Best Play in the 15th Annual NYC 15-Minute Play Festival.  Dawn Williams and Director Jonathan Sturch slip easily into the roles of zoo-kept baboons whose very human midlife concerns about the ravages of age and the future of their relationship are hilariously turned on end in light of the female’s 15th birthday (“my rear end doesn’t swell like it used to”).  Add to that the male’s conspiracy theory about “what the dolphins are up to” and you’ve got a complete winner.   This show in itself was worth the price of admission.

Act two began with Jack Dyville’s THE AVERAGE JOE, which had some very clever ideas, which director David Sein didn’t fully realize on the stage.  In it, God has decided on an encore performance of the Great Flood and asks “average Joe” Noah Nathanielson to take on the task of building the modern Ark and rounding up two of every creature in a year’s time.  In this day and age, however, Noah is not able to get the proper building permits, the necessary allotment of wood, and can’t get anywhere near a spotted owl.  Charles Peters, in the role of Noah, makes a noble effort with the piece, but direction which has his wife (played by M. Susan Peck) miming invisible props which could be better indicated and God (played by Betsy Bruce Osmun) lifting invisible windows which imply a fourth wall we shouldn’t be seeing through make the piece a difficult sell.

Next came Kevin Six’s LOVE UNREQUITED: AFTERNOON (ASIAN GALLERY).  This piece was the second of three of Six’s gallery pieces spread out over the festival, one per program.  While I’ve heard that the other two galleries – MORNING (AMERICAN MASTERS) and EVENING (EUROPEAN GALLERY) – are contenders for Best of Fest honours when the votes are tallied at the close of the festival, this one was unfortunately not well served by a set of four actors with utterly different acting styles ranging from the understated and breathy, through the monotone, and into the over-emoted. 

From the Asian Gallery, we were lead onto a golf course for Kathleen McLaughlin’s TEED OFF, a somewhat familiar treatment of the difference between two generations of soldiers (those in the Great War and those in Viet Nam), the treatment of them on their return, and their frustration that the peace they fought for – and which others fight for still – will never come.  The “surprise” ending isn’t much of a surprise but is excellently played by Jonathan Dunn-Rankin and Michael Niederman.

Ending the evening was Steve Koppman’s CELL SHOCK, a riot of a script about the end of quiet enjoyment everywhere through the rampant public usage of cell phones by the loud and inconsiderate – people who believe that they are entitled to hash out the minute details of their lives in public places with the expectation of privacy at the expense of those around them.  You might guess that I felt a particular affinity for this piece, though its message will no doubt be lost on those most needing to learn it.  Instead, we laugh as we suffer along with the poor schmo Marty (Charles Peters’ second appearance in a more rewarding role) who can’t get his work done through the long monologue of the “very blunt” woman talking about the end of her relationship next to him, excellently-played by Samantha Ginn.

I wish I had known about the festival in time to have seen the other two programs, in all featuring the talents of more than 100 San Diego Theatre Artists. 

TRUDY’S TRUTH IN THEATRE:

While not everyone who took advantage of the opportunity to market themselves in the festival was necessarily marketable, the festival itself was an incredible event which put a large number of very talented artists in the same place at the same time, allowing them to promote themselves, network, and make the connections necessary for the next great bit of theatre they’ll do.  If that’s not worth promoting, I don’t know what is.


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