HUMANA 35TH FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD IS A "MUST SEE" AT CENTER REP
HUMANA 35TH FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Louisville, KY. www.actorstheatre.org/humana-festival/ April 1 – April 3, 2011
Any playwright fortunate enough to have a play produced by the Actors Theatre of Louisville is assured that the staging will be first rate since the production values of this world-renowned venue often match those on Broadway. In this 35th anniversary Humana Festival of New American Plays, all of the six full-length plays and the three award winning 10-minute plays share this largesse. The series of skits performed by the acting interns called “The End” is the exception. This being said, Ann Washburn’s 35+ scenes (some less than a minute long), two hour and forty minute science fiction offering called A Devil at Noon could not be salvaged even with fine actors trying their best to make the play understandable.
The three audience favorites Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat, Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison, and Elemeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler are sure to make the rounds of regional theaters. Each may need some tweaking and after their time upon the stage in Louisville. Incorporating audience response will surely be of benefit. Adam Rapp’s reputation for creating strong characters with a lot of emotional baggage continues with his 90-minute monolog The Edge of Our Bodies given a competent performance by Catherine Combs as a 16 year old with a dark secret. Rapp prefers to direct his own plays, doing a creditable job with Edge of Our Bodies but one wonders what another director will glean from the script when it surely will be restaged elsewhere since Adam Rapp has a dedicated, almost cult inspired, following.
The play Bob, selected to have the grandest staging on the Pamela Brown proscenium arch stage was written by our own homegrown Bay Area author Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Nachtrieb honed his skills writing and acting in short skits with the group calling themselves “Killing My Lobster.” He graduated to full-length plays winning the coveted Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award for Hunter Gatherers in 2007. For Bob, subtitled A Life in Five Acts, he reverts (regresses?) to his Killing My Lobster days with a picaresque Candide type construction with his protagonist, named Bob of course, journeying through life searching for fame and meaning to his life. It is a series of skits with a four cast members playing multiple roles and acting as a Greek chorus. The journey is over laden with slapstick, pratfalls and sight gags. The extended running time and obscure references (who the hell is Garry Metcalf?) need pruning. But hey, the stage version of Voltaire’s Candide underwent at least three revisions by a list of who’s who in the theatrical/musical world before they got it right. The over staging of Bob is mesmerizing and there are moments of satirical hilarity, farcical action and clownish actions but fails to hold the audience interest.
Jordan Harrison has become a fixture at Actor Theatre having had Act a Lady, Kid-Simple and Fit for Feet produce here. His play Maple and Vine is by far the best-conceived play in this year’s selection. Consider what would happen if you gave up your 21st century hectic, stressful job in the big city and were able to move into an isolated community where life is structured in a 1950s mold similar to the neighborhood seen in the movie The Truman Show. A New York racially mixed couple, advertising exec Katha (Kate Turbull) and plastic surgeon husband Ryu (Peter Kim) are conned into moving into this fantasy world. You might expect a vocal from the Fantastics “Try to Remember. . . when life was slow and oh, so mellow” to play in the background.
Within this milieu, the happy structured existence runs aground of racial intolerance, hidden sexual proclivities (read homosexuality) and social hierarchy. Harrison is a master at dialog/construction and his first act sets up the unexpected kickers in act 2 perfectly. Director Anne Kauffman’s elegantly staged action is given a great boost by the superb cast that includes Paul Niebank, Jeanine Serralles and Jesse Pennington.
A great cast of Teresa Avia Lim, John Norman Schneider and Cory Smith in Edith Can Shoot Straight and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat earn a spontaneous standing ovation. Add director May Adrales to the list earning accolades. Edith (Teresa Avia Lim), the lead character, is a 12-year-old living alone with her 16-year-old brother Kenny (John Norman Schneider) on an isolated non-working farm in the mid-west. Fantasy enters their physical world with Edith visualizing superior powers with her B-B-gun and bow and arrow. Into their world is thrust nerdy mother’s-boy Benji (Cory Michael Smith) who has been tossed from his home by an intolerant mother because of his “relationship” (read gay) with Kenny. As the bond between Kenny and Benji increases, Edith begins to feel alienation and as a petulant child acts irrationally, leading to serious consequences that must be resolved with little help from adults. The adults never appear on stage. They are fully devised individuals through Pamatmat’s use of the telephone and dialog of the onstage actors. Pathos, humor and drama infiltrate the story line. with the blossoming liaison between the boys shares equal importance with Edith's journey giving up her adult chimera for a chance to be the inner child.
The play that will most probably have a long life with community theaters is Molly Smith Metzler’s Elemeno Pea that requires only 5 actors and one set. For starters and explanation of the title seems appropriate. It is taken from a childhood musical alphabet learning tool, “A, B, C, D. . .L(el), M (em), N (en), O (o), P (Pea) that plays an integral part in two characters’s remembrance of things past. They are two sisters, the older unsuccessful Devon (Cassie Beck) and the beautiful, sophisticated Simone (Kimberly Parker Green) living the life of luxury working as an “executive assistant” in Martha’s Vineyard. They share the stage for the first 30 minutes getting reacquainted wringing every laugh line with perfect timing. With the entrance of Simone’s rich, bitch boss, Michaela (Sara Surrey) the plays emphasis takes a shocking turn. Surry’s histrionic acting can be blamed on Davis McCallam’s direction and under gentler hands would meld with the tightly constructed plot. The author creates a stereotype Hispanic named Jos-B (Gerardo Rodriquez), as distinguished from Jos-A, [ get it?] who has some of the most delicious lines sometimes lost in the raucous audience response. The fifth character Ethan played perfectly by Daniel Pearce is the epitome of rich, spoiled, ne'er-do-well New Englander who charms the pants off (not on stage) of Simone as they go sailing off into an unknown sunset. It is not all fun and games as Metzler deftly introduces the the right amount of dramatic pathos to counteract the cutting satirical content giving the entire show balance.
Steve Cosson, artistic director of the highly respected award-winning group The Civilians, had the unenviable chore of making sense of Anne Washburn’s completely unintelligible sci-fi (?) two hour and 40 minute bore A Devil at Noon. The action apparently takes place in the psyche of a Berkeley, California drug addict (maybe a recovering addict) who has an affair with a woman (Rebecca Hart) who may be real or an incarnation of one of his characters. There is reference to “Sector 8” that may or may not exist, populated by the Moon Man (Ross Bickell). It may or may not refer to the military lingo “Section 8”, where the mentally sick serviceman are sent before they are discharged. There are no props. Most of the action is done in pantomime with appropriate sound cues. There are ninjas that prowl the stage. There are unknown burglars searching for unknown objects. There are fascinating light cues apparently meant to convey meaning but add only confusion to the author's nebulous intent. Enough said?
Artistic Director Marc Masterson is leaving Actors Theatre of Louisville to take the same title in our highly regarded South Coast Repertory Theatre where he will again be searching for submissions for their New Play Festival.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com
Left: Olivia Lowe as Scout. Right: Dan Hiatt as Atticus Finch giving sage advise to Olivia Lowe as Scout
TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD dramatized by Christopher Sergel, based on the novel by Harper Lee directed by Michael Butler . Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA. 925.943.7469 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 925.943.7469 end_of_the_skype_highlighting www.CenterREP.org
April 1- April 30, 2011
TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD IS A "MUST SEE" AT CENTER REP
Last evening the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle (SFBACC) honored Center Rep for the 2010 production of She Love Me. They will surely get a nomination for their stark, true to the novel adaptation of To Kill A Mocking Bird that held the audience spellbound on opening night. Michael Butler, known for his broad directorial stints, demonstrates his versatility fashioning an extremely well paced production giving depth to Harper Lee’s coming of age story of youngsters in 1935 racist Maycomb, Alabama. It earns a rating of ****1/2 out of 5 stars.
It was 50 years ago, that Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize novel was published and the injustice to Southern blacks imbedded in the written word are brought achingly to life on the Center Rep stage. In 1965 Christopher Sergel, owner of Dramatic Publishing Company, obtained permission from Lee to do an adaptation that first opened in England in 1970. Since then the play has been widely produced with a yearly staging in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Center Reps’ production boasts a top-notch cast with the amazing Dan Hiatt in the lead role of Atticus Finch.
The youngsters are tomboy Scout Finch (Olivia Lowe), her brother Jem (Danny Christensen) and visiting distant neighbor boy Dill (Hunter Milano). In the book, the story is told through the words of Scout and expanded through the eyes of brother Jem and Dill. In this version, the narrator is Scout as an adult (Suzanne Irving) who weaves in and out of the action unobtrusively mingling with and at times taking part in the story. It is a stirring denunciation of Southern racial injustice in the 1930s. Tom Robinson (Joseph Ingram) a black man is falsely accused of raping a white girl named Mayella Ewell (Lina Makdisi). The white privileged townsfolk of Maycomb, Alabama feared “a nightmare was upon them” as anti-black fervor became rampant. When Atticus is asked and accepts to defend Tom, he and his children are treated as pariahs.
The secondary story involves the children’s fascination with the mysterious withdrawn neighbor Boo Radley (Henry Perkins). At the trial Mayella and her uneducated and violent father Bob Ewell (James Hiser) perjure themselves only to be discredited by Atticus but the all male jury finds Tom guilty. Vengeful Bob Ewell, in a drunken rage attacks Scout and Jem on Halloween night and is killed by the gentle reclusive Boo.
Dan Hiatt gives a solid performance placing a distinctive stamp on the role. In the version that Butler has elected to use, Suzanne Irving as the narrator moves gracefully in and out of the limelight adding depth to the story line without intruding on actors moving about her. Olivia Lowe as Scout has a ring of truth and Danny Christensen as Jem almost matches her ability. However, among the children, it is the little scene stealer Hunter Milano who received the most applause at the curtain call. If this were a movie Lina Makdisi as Mayella would earn an Oscar for her truly brilliant short time in the witness box. James Hiser as Bob Ewell exudes venom and is someone you would not want to meet in an ally on a dark night. Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia played with dignity by Allison L. Payne speaks the line that gives the title to the book. “Mockingbirds don’t eat anyone’s garden, nor do they do any other harm and that to kill one would be an outright sin.”
Melpomene Katakalos’s minimalist set of raked wooden planks stretching from the apron to curve gently on the rear stage is ingenious and allows the free movement of wooden railings and folding chairs into various positions signifying changes in venue.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com