Reviewed by Willy G. Biggers
Once again, the Hovey Players in Waltham have put on a terrific program of short plays by local playwrights. Those of you who attend these things religiously, you know what I mean. Those of you who don't, well, you really should. Although the program isn't what you'd call uniformly excellent, the excitement and dedication of everyone involved just shines right through the thing, and for my money, that's the real stuff of theatre. The really fun thing about good community theatre - and Hovey is as good as it gets - is the risk factor, the fact that you know going in that there's a chance some of it will be great, and some of it will be junk. I'd rather see that than some focus-group-tested and minutely marketed evening of Broadway road shows, or worse, television, any day.
I attended Summer Shorts this weekend, the first weekend of its two-weekend run, and I saw some really first-rate stuff: well-written, well-directed, well-acted. I also saw some stuff which shouldn't have been up on the stage at all. While I admire all the hard work, that doesn't mean everything was worth seeing. There were eleven plays up that night, which I will review in order. For those of you who are scoring at home, I have an easy ratings system of one to four stars. Four stars means great. Of the eleven short plays being run this weekend (there will be nine more next weekend!), I gave four stars to one play, three stars to six, two stars to two, and two plays got only one star. Short form, these plays are worth the price of admission: "Audition" (One and Two), "Rain Delay", "Intermission", "Find Your Own Levine", "The Four Biggest Guys in Rock", and "Allergic Reaction". Go see them.
Audition One by Marc P. Smith (***) This piece is not really original, but it is funny, and always a sure hit with a crowd composed largely of community theatre people. With the extra sizzle of a performer like Elizabeth Marshall, it really sparkles. How's that for a bad mixed metaphor? I don't care, I loved it. A great way to start the evening.
A Little S & M by Lida McGirr (*)
Take a provocative title, add some naughty references to a type of pain we'd all rather not have, throw in some gratuitous slapstick, stereotyped accents and an acupuncturist who uses knitting needles, wrap it all up with a punchline we saw coming a mile away, and what have you got? A mess, that's what. It's too long, it's not really funny, and it doesn't go anywhere. Lida McGirr, who wrote and directed the play as well as playing in it, is always a pleasure to watch, but that doesn't save this script. Steven Bander, as the doctor, isn't allowed to do anything more than play a stereotype.
Rain Delay by Jerry Bisantz (***)
This is essentially the same show, with the same cast, which was so well received (deservedly so) earlier this year at the Playwright's Platform in Boston. The play is about a father and son who have managed to sneak into Fenway Park even though the game has been called for rain. The cast is very sharp, especially Max Bisantz as the son, who carries the weight of the show. The chemistry between him and Jerry Kaplan as his dad is very good. The only off-note in the casting is Leigh Berry, who doesn't work out as one of the detectives who find them. The play seems to have been slightly reworked since June. The transitions worked a lot better than they did earlier, but still there is something here which hasn't quite gelled. Kaplan's character, a teacher, stands accused of some crime, presumably some form of child abuse, and he is thus forbidden to see his son. But it seems that the playwright is afraid to make the strong choice of what exactly dad is accused of, and this inhibits our empathy for him. Bisantz always walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy in his plays, and they are consistently watchable. This is one of his best.
One Fiery Leaf by Geralyn Horton (**)
Another veteran play from this year's Platform Festival, this play features nice language and engaging actors, but I just couldn't find a way to care about them. June Lewin is a gifted actor; as the cliche goes, I'd pay to watch her read the phone book. Well, it got real close to that this weekend! Playwriting has rules, believe it or not, and here the playwright violated one of the most important ones: "Show us, don't tell us." Chandra Pieragostini plays June Lewin's daughter, visiting her to warn that she will be asking her husband for a divorce. Technically, there is a conflict on stage, between the daughter who is determined to go through with the divorce, and the mother who encourages her to think carefully about what she's about to do. But that pales in interest to the conflict between the daughter and the husband, which is described in excruciating detail by Ms. Pieragostini. It would have made for more dramatic interest to have the husband on stage, and to have the players act out the conflict between them. But the playwright couldn't do that. She decided instead to subordinate the dramatic needs of the play, and with them the interest of the audience, in order to be able to use her central metaphor, the fiery leaf of the title. It's a nice metaphor, ut that doesn't make the play interesting to watch.
Intermission by Jerry Kaplan (***)
Jerry Kaplan holds a comic mirror up to his audience in this light and funny piece. Four people sit in the audience of a play, and as the intermission begins, they cease to be spectators and become people again. It doesn't go anywhere, but I found myself interested in the characters, and I enjoyed the jokes. One of Kaplan's characters actually says that's enough for him! Mark Sickler, Shari Pitkin, Jerry Kaplan, and Bill Spera all handle this material deftly. Find Your Own Levine (***)
Another play about theatre, this one posits Steve Lillis as a successful Broadway producer and Jason Myatt as the struggling playwright who is willing to go to extremes to get his play read by Lillis. The conflict is sharp, the dialogue is funny, and the actors are delightful to watch. Myatt is especially enjoyable as a playwright pushed a little too close to the edge. The script has an introductory scene and a closing scene which are wholly unnecessary, and these should be written out; also, the conclusion seems a little forced. Still, all in all the play is well written and enjoyable.
Audition Two by Marc P. Smith (***)
Have you noticed the prevalence of theatrical themes at this year's Summer Shorts? It just seems to conform to my favorite stereotype about playwrights: when they're stuck for a theme, they write about theatre. Actually, this is another hilarious audition play, and it meets the same standard set at the beginning of the evening by the first "Audition" play. Eric Houghton, as the actor who is used to being a big fish in a little pond, is touching, empathetic and funny, even as he flops his first big-time audition.
Fare Thee Well by Michael Bettencourt (*)
Simultaneously patronizing, dull, and so very, very earnest, this piece nevertheless is convinced of its own cleverness and relevance. Because it deals (obliquely) with a sensitive and important topic, people will say they like this play, because they feel they should. Don't be fooled. Throughout, one hears the voice of a playwright who really, really wants you to know that he's good. But there were no characters on stage, only poetry, and not very good poetry at that. The whole play is based on a fairly dumb conceit: that a group of women, friends of a woman who is about to undergo a mastectomy, will hold a ceremony where they will recount all the names by which we call breasts. I think this is the playwright's idea of something "women would do." I was left feeling as though that would be a pretty unfeeling thing to do, to celebrate the glory of an organ your friend is about to have cut out. I was utterly unconvinced by the idea. Also, can someone explain the final metaphor, comparing the removed tissue - or perhaps just an incision - to a butterfly?
The Four Biggest Guys in Rock by Robert Mattson (****)
This was my favorite play of the weekend, and I think it was the audience favorite as well. The premise of the play is extremely cute, and in fact would be too cute to bear if not for the funny, sharp and very witty writing. I usually look for more from a play than just a good laugh, but although there is no deep theme to this play, I couldn't care less. It's cracking good fun, and very entertaining. J. Mark Baumhardt, Tom Berry, Robert Mattson, and Dave Sheppard are hilarious as the guys.
Winchester by Patrick Cleary (**) An interesting premise, but although the playwright tries, he fails to connect the story of Sarah Winchester with the onstage character of Sarah. The only connection he can come up with is Sarah's husband, who gives tours of the famous Winchester Mansion. It's a pretty weak connection. There may be a play lurking in this story, but I didn't see it at Summer Shorts. What I saw instead was a series of monologues providing tedious exposition, punctuated by weak dialogue scenes between the husband and wife. Michael Tomasulo and Holly Vanesse valiantly try to breathe some life into this material, but in vain.
Allergic Reaction by Susanna Ralli (***)
Hilarious and well-acted, this tale of a couple transformed by attending a wedding delightfully foils all of our expectations about these characters, who they are, and what they want. Leigh Berry, so miscast in "Rain Delay", shines here as the woman who would stop at nothing to catch the bouquet, and Tom Berry is also great fun as her boyfriend, whose allergies don't just include flowers. His part is a little underwritten, and the play suffers from that, but there is a complexity and a nice comic layering in this play which goes missing in many of the other offerings. A nice way to end the evening!
Subject: to Willy G. Biggers
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2001 17:34:50 EDT
For lack of another e-mail address to send messages directly to Willy G. Biggers...if this could be so kindly forwarded...
My name is Kerry Zukus and I would first like to thank-you for your very positive review of my one-act play, "Find Your Own Levine" which was featured in Hovey Players Summer Shorts, 2001.
Unfortunately, and I am sure this was a typo, mine was the only one-act reviewed where the name of the playwright did not appear in your review. If it would not be too much trouble, standard procedure is usually to amend the posting to correct this small but important issue.
Thank-you ever so much and again, thank-you for the positive review of my
work and your support of up and coming new theatrical voices.
FIND YOUR OWN LEVINE