note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Tony Siracusa
Lighting Design by Deb Sullivan
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design by J Hagenbuckle
Stage Manager Jason Rossman
I love John Kuntz (Doesn't everyone?) His comic monologues and one-person plays have been award-winning delights for years, and as an actor his boneless body grows a foot taller whenever he steps on stage. His latest work --- "Emerald City" having its world premier production by CentaStage at the BCA --- is one of the few times none of his words usher from his own mouth, but his style is unmistakably present. It is a fascinating script full of both fresh and familiar ideas, excellently and lovingly acted and produced. To my mind, however, it is an unfinished attempt to hold several incompatible ideas together.
Act one plunges four fantastic and unbelievable comic caricatures together in a cocktail lounge with gaudy green decor. (Thank you Tony Siracusa.) Each is an avatar of a major character out of the Oz movie musical: Victor (Barlow Adamson) affects a claw-hand and occasional awkwardly jerky gestures of The Tinman; belligerent Ed (Rick Park) is a Cowardly Lion; Kevin (Christopher Thorn) lapses in and out of Turrets-syndrom as a Scarecrow. These three circle around Midge (Julie Perkins) --- a child-like woman always on a road, yellow-brick or not, who vagues out periodically into catatonic contemplation of her dream-world. She is the Dorothy figure for the crew. These characters are thin, ridiculously maimed, and only intermittently tangential to their movieland counterparts.
For the end of the act, the line of reality blurs and as Deb Sullivan's lights change the quartet dances their way into Midge's dream (Thanks Choreographer Rick Park), with the amplified voice of an Oz/father-figure demanding "Who are you?" The implication is an anticipated change from fantastic to fantasy. But that is never realized.
Act Two turns out to be four monologues --- perhaps the back-story notes trying to account for each character's oddness in the first act. These are intensely personal, graphically realistic stories, somewhat off-putting in their uncompromising detail. Again, there are intermittent references to the movie. These monologues bear little relationship to the "real people" of Act One; the unreality of the comedy in Act One is in no way explained by these often harrowing personal biographies. The show cries out for lengthy, painful re-write.
If I were asked to "play-doctor" this show, my advice would be to go with the power and originality of the second-act, and sacrifice the familiar cute and the witty and odd-ball shallowness of the first. These characters could be odd and even related to movie memories even if they had none of the familiar comic rhythms Playwright Kuntz handles so expertly. My impulse is to wrap John in a bear-hug and whisper "We will still love you even when you're not funny." "Emerald City" is, in my eyes, the work of an emerging playwright becoming, reluctantly, himself. It isn't a very good play; it is however a very good beginning.