Among the Living
by James Yeara on July 5, 2012
Plays by Hal Corley, Christina Gorman, Michael Whistler, Kieron Barry, Zach Udko, Karla Jennings, Kim Sykes, and Andrew Charles Lark.
Directed by Laura Margolis and John Sowle
Play By Play: Rendezvous
The annual Play by Play festival of new one-act plays at Stageworks/Hudson always has something to please almost everyone, and this year the eight one-acts, the performances, and the staging are uniformly excellent. Play by Play: Rendezvous is one of the best collections in the 16-year history of this once-a-year event. Centering mostly on two-character scenes, it's a theater buffet that should not be missed.
The plays, each between 10 and 15 minutes long, have contemporary settings this year (something unusual for this series), and their appeal is broad. Their brevity is their soul, and the staging keeps the pace quick but never harried or hurried.
The four actors—Claire Epstein, Steven Patterson, Louise Pillai, and Christopher Smith—are uniformly fine in creating a homeless man on a train or on a street corner, a scholar arguing the merits of prostitution, a worried job-seeker, a would-be lover, or the variety of lonely hearts brought to life with very exact and believable accents and needs. Unlike previous years, there's nary a dead moment or performance in the two-hour collection.
Though each of the eight one-acts offer something, three stood out for me. Lonely Hearts Ventura by Kieron Barry, supposedly inspired by Craigslist personals from Ventura, Calif., was the only play to feature all four performers and they created an aural love poem. The staging was crisp and fresh. Lonely Hearts Ventura is reason enough to see Rendezvous: It's funny and surprisingly touching. It was staged by John Sowle, who also did the minimal sets and the protean lighting design for the entire show; his aesthetic conceit aided the play instead of smothering it.
The Act 2 opener, Grave Shopping With Mama by Zach Udko, was at times hysterical and ultimately frighteningly hellish. Udko, whose The Claw of the Schwa was one of the hits of last year's festival, centers on a mama from hell and her son in a surreal tale that plays like Woody Allen adapting Edgar Allan Poe. Sowle also directed this one, and the use of the rectangular transparent coffin is sprightly as it is frightening.
The last of the Rendezvous' eight is Charles Lark's Ask Me! Tell Me!, which centers on the first in-person meeting of Jamie (well played by Smith), a college student who corresponded as part of a class project with a G.I. fighting in Iraq/Afghanistan, and did it so well that the returning soldier fell in love with him. Unfortunately, "Jamie" is a name easily given to misprision, and Jamie frets with his lesbian BFF Charlie (well played by Claire Epstein) about his situation. First to figure out the solution to the misprision gets the laugh before the rest of the audience. It's a smart little turn that sums up this year's Play by Play well.
Stageworks tops itself with latest
'Play by Play' festival
by CAROL KING For the Daily Gazette on July 8, 2012
How do they do it? Stageworks/Hudson's annual theatrical event "Play by Play," a "festival of new one-act plays," gets better every year. This review in no way intends to diminish the triumphs of years past, but this season's crop of new plays, under the name "Rendezvous," is truly the best ever. Sharing directorial credits are John Sowle and Laura Margolis, the company's artistic director. Her choices are always spunky and, more importantly, intelligent.
Eight new plays, none lasting more than 20 minutes or so, by eight playwrights are presented by four actors:, Clair Epstein, Steven Patterson, Louise Pillai and Christopher Smith. Three young actors, Aizzah Fatima, Lauren Heath and Damian Rossman, ably round out the cast. Each text involves a chance meeting or an unexpected interlude. Actors and directors handle each with wit and precision.
"I'd Like to Know So Much Less About You," by Hal Corley, centers on the meeting of an out-of-work mother (Pillai), desperate for the resources to care for her family, and a homeless man (Patterson). The mother is addicted to her cellphone, while the man claims he just wants to be left alone. He, however, cannot resist giving her some fashion tips and lengthy advice on her vocabulary while she is searching for a job. She calls him a "psycho stalker." He calls himself "absolutely cursed with loquaciousness."
"The God Particle," by Christina Gorman, is a riveting discussion of the relationship of science and humanity.
"Quimper" is probably the best of the lot. Written sensitively by Michael Whistler, it examines the relationship of a passionate antiques lover (Patterson) to his acquisitions, in particular, a 19th century chamber pot made in Quimper (pronounced "Campere" by the French), France. Patterson's ability to draw the audience into his amour for his collection is both touching and comic.
"Lonely Hearts Ventura," by Kieron Barry, is in the "you can't make this stuff up" category. The entire text is taken from the pages of "Missed Connections" of the Craigslist Website. It includes such quotes as "Love really is suicide; that's why I got it tattooed on the top of my foot" and "His smell is still on me and, to tell you the truth, it's making me sick."
"Grave Shopping With Mama," by Zach Udko, is a dark and funny exploration of a young man's life as it is fashioned by his mother, who is convinced he is gay, though he denies it.
"Free," by Karla Jennings, takes a look at the world of money and power through the eyes of a derelict (Patterson), a former CEO, and his former acolyte (Smith), who based his entire career on the former's no-holds-barred greed.
"Sex and Commerce," by Kim Sykes, is an academic look at the life of sex workers -- and just how contented they are. A best-selling book on the subject is challenged by an activist social worker (Pillai) with a different point of view.
"Ask Me! Tell Me!," by Andrew Charles Lark, is an ironic take on the question of "don't ask, don't tell." The play is both comic and touching and affords its audience a real shocker of an ending both to the play and to this most enchanting evening of theater.