Reviewed by Willy G. Biggers
This past week, the Hovey Players in Waltham performed the second of two consecutive weekends of new theatre works by local area playwrights. Last weekend's show, as I noted in my previous review, was very good, even though it didn't maintain its high quality throughout; but this weekend's showcase was nothing short of spectacular. They have really outdone themselves. There wasn't a single bad play in the entire lot.
Audition One by Marc P. Smith (***)
The same piece as was performed in this slot last week, only with a different performer. Wendy Feign finds different things in this than did Elizabeth Marshall, and makes it just as enjoyable (maybe a little more so).
Drink Sampler by Patrick Brennan (***)
If there was a theme to last week's roundup, it was theatre; and if there was a theme to this week's, it's bars. This play opens with three barflies, one of whom is sick with Gulf War Syndrome, arguing about the war and its aftermath. The play starts off well, but it quickly bogs down, and I found the ending unconvincing. Gina Colombo stands out as the femme fatale of the trio, and Kent Miller and Bill Spera deliver believably as the down-on-his-luck soldier and his drinking buddy.
The League of the Unexpected by George Sauer (***)
This play is predicated on a neat but rather thin idea, yet the deft writing and the comic bravado of its two actors saves the piece and makes it fun and satisfying. So what if I didn't find the ending completely "unexpected"? The incredible Jason Yaitanes animates this play, and John Carozza keeps up with him all the way.
Thanks for Playing by Mark Sickler (***)
The story of two college buddies coming to terms with the subtexts of their relationship. I liked the sensitivity of the piece, even though it's a bit whiney and petulant, and Tom Berry and Ian Dowell are superb as the guys. Berry, as the play's protagonist, doesn't make the mistake of begging us for our approval, and Dowell doesn't make us hate him.
Ed(Ted) by Courtney Graff (****)
When it comes to d vining the intention of the play, most of the shows this year were pretty straightforward; this piece was the exception. Courtney Graff has no intention of telling us where we're going, but it's a hell of a ride! Eunice Ferrera is electric as the estranged mother visiting her son - or sons? - in the hospital. She may be crazy, but she will not be denied. Nat McIntyre, who may or may not be her son, earns our sympathy if not our understanding as he tries, with limited success, to evade her. Neither of these characters tells us what they're doing, or who the doll is, but Ferrera is so mesmerizing, the play so thoroughly entertaining, that we hardly notice.
Audition Two by Marc P. Smith (***)
This is the same Audition piece that ran at last week's Summer Shorts, with the same actor, Eric Houghton, delivering a terrific performance as the actor from out of town - way out of town - who probably should have stayed back in South Dakota. Great fun, and the look on Houghton's face as he is shown the door is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.
Out to Lunch by Jim and Jean Anton (****)
One of the favorites of the evening, this play was lovingly written and skillfully directed, as three friends have overlapping cell phone conversations over lunch, with their fourth friend, the amazing Jason Myatt, left hapless and speechless at the table. Myatt steals the show without uttering a word, and Jason Yaitanes as the waiter is his perfect silent foil. The combination of their silent interplay and the call-and-response style of the cell phone conversations, which makes each call a seeming commentary on each of the others, was a delight to watch. In the hands of a less competent director or cast, this play could easily have been a disaster. The playwrights included an insert in their program complaining about the proliferation of cell phones, and claiming that this was their inspiration. I could not, however, detect an anti-cell phone theme in this play. Never mind, it's still great fun!
The Test by Paula Caplan (**)
The most serious of all the plays in Summer Shorts, this was a thoughtful and provocative story about two prisoners on death row, and what happens when one is ordered to take an IQ test to determine if he is intelligent enough for the State to execute him. I found the writing to be quite wonderful, but the direction was thin and lackluster, leaving us with only the most cursory understanding of these characters. They deserved more than ten minutes.
Future Perfect by Ginger Lazarus (****)
Jason Yaitanes turns in his best performance of the evening in this confection. Kim Anton appears as a visitor from the future researching Yaitanes -- the boy voted most likely to succeed, but who finds himself drunk again, in yet another bottom-rung job. Anton's character constantly struggles with our "dead language," from a time when we still had tenses. Their dual ineptitude, his machismo, her vulnerability, all collide and we accept the outlandish situation on its face. Great writing, great acting, and great direction.
England England by Glen Doyle (**)
This is an amiable sketch about another group of barflies. Although I very much enjoyed the characters, and especially Glen Doyle's rendition of Lear, I was disappointed by the lack of any real story and the fact that the play was padded out by the seemingly endless repetition of the same two unfunny jokes, which brought the whole affair to an unsatisfying conclusion. Angela Blackman and Richard Sherburne are a pleasure to watch, but the material drags them down.
Top of the World Ma! by David Kruh (***)
This play brings new meaning to "over the top!" It just keeps upping the comic ante! This tale of two yuppies on an office-sponsored mountain-climbing expedition had the audience exploding with laughter. Jason Myatt and Jason Yaitanes again share the stage, and close this year's Summer Shorts in brilliant style.