note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
David … Shelly Bolman
Emily … Laura D. DeGiacomo
Barbara … Cheryl McMahon
Bill … Dale Place
Mona; Sue; Zoe … Jennifer Valentine
Frank; Buddy; Leo … Christopher Chew
Shawn Sturnick’s comedy BETTER OFF DEAD was the first offering of Village Theatre Project whose goals include developing new stage works (its roster of artists is breathtaking). Those who know Mr. Sturnick as an actor will recall his boyish charms (his radiant Edgar in New Repertory’s KING LEAR has yet to be surpassed) and what I had seen of his playwriting was delightful whimsy; Mr. Sturnick is currently studying Marine Biology --- if the acting door has closed, for now, the playwriting one should remain open for BETTER OFF DEAD is Mr. Sturnick’s COMEDY OF ERRORS, formulaic but firmly structured; are there richer comedies in him, waiting to be born?
Mr. Sturnick’s plot revolved around a young Broadway playwright, one David Gellman (“G” as in “Jello”), who plans to commit suicide on the opening night of his play GREAT TO BE ALIVE, feeling that his producer Bill has ruined it beyond repair; David meets-cute via cell phone with Emily, a sympathetic Hotline volunteer, before a sudden freak accident supposedly leaves him for dead. Despite critical panning, GREAT TO BE ALIVE becomes a box office smash as “the play the dead guy wrote”; when David turns up, alive, Bill and his ex-wife Barbara (David’s agent) decide to keep their cash cow mooing by having David disappear --- permanently. Mr. Sturnick’s bite was more of a nibble but such good-natured consistency led to a smooth happy ending and Village Theatre Project did him up proud from Troy Siebel’s snappy direction to Gail Astrid Buckley’s kooky, layered setting.
Mr. Siebel’s sextet gave their all to their paper-thin roles: three of them did their familiar thing --- Shelley Bolman (David) bounced about as another beagle puppy, Dale Place (Bill) was his steely self though he had some funny, spastic moments while making assassination plans, and Cheryl McMahon (Barbara) was alternately shrewd and dithery --- may they be allowed to stretch their artistic muscles in the future. Laura D. DeGiacomo (Emily) and Jennifer Valentine (various roles) are warm-hearted comediennes and Mr. Siebel wisely kept Camp from their doors; Ms. DeGiacomo’s kinda-sorta love scenes with Mr. Bolman were particularly winning. Christopher Chew revealed a good comic flair in his three turns though I’m still waiting for his Fagin (not to mention his Doc in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA).
Village Theatre Project plans to make the Groton area their home base; with all its promised talent, Boston theatergoers should keep an eye on this company, if not the pedal to the metal.