I attended two productions in December: one for the acting, one for the writing; one was worthwhile, one was not. Bradley’s “Fall Forward, a Festival of Student Directed Plays” was a tedious evening that eventually found me making a quick exit during a blackout of the third offering. The evening was a bill of three one-acts directed by advanced students and acted by non-majors and/or freshmen in the Theatre Department.
I enjoy the idea of a bill of one-acts because of the potential for quirky writing and the variety offered by three separate writer’s sensibilities. That I found the first two plays (“The True Love Story of My Parents” and “Milky Way and Main”) tedious was due to the near absence of that old theatrical element … conflict. The first play was a series of short scenes recounting the history of a relationship. Several white placards were hanging that “the daughter/storyteller” turned to display the title for the next stage in her parent’s relationship. I knew I was in trouble when I started counting how many more cards needed to be turned before the end of the play. The inexperienced actors and director were not helped at all by the static quality of the writing.
The second offering was set in a small town with the usual “small town blues” — a lack of economic opportunity, social interactions and amusements. This play was more successful in its examination of characters and setting but it was fairly devoid of action. A good play poses a question to be answered through the dramatic action; actors embody that action. Language/conversation serves the character’s desire to get something. That conversation then is simply the tip of the iceberg that is determined by the underlying desire or need of the character. Playwriting is more successful when the need/conflict is specific; generalities are the enemy of good writing and good acting. “Milky Way and Main” was a generalized exploration of the malaise of small town America which is an important subject and has been treated in many plays, films, songs and stories. The main characters are clerks at a discount “Dollar Store” facing possible unemployment as a result of a new Wal-Mart recently opening. They are uneducated and unskilled and therefore they are finding it increasingly difficult to find an economic/social place in a globalized world. These are all things we know and unfortunately the play did not add anymore awareness or understanding to the predicament of unskilled people coping in a globalized economy.
The final play on the bill was “Star-Crossed Lovers” which seemed to be heading toward a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story through the ages (the first scene was cavemen, the second was Ancient Greece) and was so amateurishly staged and performed that I had to leave. I admit I was disappointed; I went hoping to be engaged by some good writing, prepared to be tolerant of young actors and directors, but in the end bored and eventually dismayed.
The Cornstock Winter Playhouse produced the 1970s comic drama, “And Miss REARDON Drinks A Little” during the first and second week of December. The play was popular years ago on the regional and community theater circuit following a brief run on Broadway. The strength of the play is in its four meaty roles for women. As is the case with many contemporary American plays, the story deals with a dysfunctional family with years of resentments bubbling to the surface during the action. This family consists of three sisters, well played by Cindy Hoey, Helen Engelbrecht and Belinda Calvert who have all gone into teaching in the public schools and one who has risen to be the superintendent of the system. The resentments involve how the “superintendent” ruthlessly avoided care taking for their declining mother as well as her marriage to the boyfriend of Miss Reardon. The two sisters who lived as old maid school teachers and care givers now are suffering – a mental breakdown for one and alcoholism for the other. The sociopathic successful superintendent sister has come to the apartment to deliver papers for Miss Reardon to use to have the other sister committed. Comic relief was provided by the character of Fleur Stein well played by Cathy Sutliff who is employed part-time by the schools and has heard the superintendent is visiting and has therefore arrived hoping to charm her boss for a full-time position. Alas her plan is a complete disaster thanks to the complete lack of social skills of her opinionated husband, Bob (Gene Bourke) who in a few minutes accomplished the daunting task of offending everyone in the room. It is not a great play, but I went for the acting and was not disappointed.
Next up at Cornstock is a great play by one of our very best living playwrights, Tom Stoppard. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is the play that established Stoppard as a master when it ran for a year on Broadway in 1967/68. It will play for two weekends opening Jan. 15. This is a play that will give you something to talk about. Bring friends. The box office phone number is 676-2196