Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Miss Price"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Joe Coyne

"Miss Price"

Playwright John Kuntz
Director Eric C. Engel


Miss Price A. Spector
Eleanor Shields Paula Plum

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Edna St Vincent Millay - "Recuerdo"

My first memory of a library experience, and I am an avowed heavy user, was back in Ashland when I wanted to take out the salacious Sax Rohmer thriller, The Bride of Dr. Fu Manchu. I was ripping through the series with Sir Dennis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie finding inscrutables and insidiouses everywhere with the Evil One making his escapes through the sewers of London. The dodgy librarian would not permit me take out the book as it was too old for me, or I was too young for it. In those days with no electronic strips embedded within the books to blare out malefactors leaving the library, I simply took it. I wish I could say I have it still.

As a former friend of mine use to say, "And . . . .The point of is?"

Well there is none. I just have liked and continue to like libraries: their woodiness, the old index cards, the burgeoning shelves warning that one more volume will bring down the cases perhaps the roof. Volumes not visited for years. Within the stacks you can escape, generally no one is there. You can move at will, from the Congo to a lone monastery at Thyangboche, on to geodes or anodes: if you listen, Kierkegaard speaks and Plato responds. In libraries you can find information you want to receive rather the mtv-insta-shots across your mind leaving you with repeated senseless facts of no concern and of less value.

But to the Play.

It is remarkable: the type of adventure theater can and seldom does offer. Theater of the mind and of imagination. You see, you hear, you imagine. You are again infused with optimism for our human souls. It may not last but you have seen a sliver of possibility affecting one fictionalized person. And why not: why not let yourself be infected as well.

The talented Paula Plum portrays Eleanor Shields an aging librarian, hiding from life in an old New England town when forced to accept a new assistant, a certain Miss Price: youthful and with the most radiant of smiles. I have not seen such a smile on an actress to such effect.

We glimpse the secret repressed life of Eleanor Shields as Paula dances a tea cup across the floor with a pas de Earlgrey and flourishes the physical action of just collecting returned books from their bin, even turning of the lights with deliberate talent and grace. Life is going to change but how. The key is when Miss Price describes how she chose this particular town to begin again: by blindly inserting her finger onto a page and then acting on the choice. This fleck of sand confuses and entrances Eleanor Shields and it is the start.

For just the struggle with her dangling bifocals, Paula may add the job of librarian to her resume.

John Kuntz has been one of my favorite actors and this venture into play writing rather than his solo pieces moves him up on that list as well. Controlled zaniness benefits the production and permits the through line to be within sight at all times. I have tasted it in a production by Theatre de Complicite, possibilities floating out, filling the room. A few literary allusions combined with illusions. It is an accomplished piece of work.

So as my former friend said, "And . . . .The point of is?"

There is tang, there is something orange they give you on planes usually cold, there is frozen orange juice, fresh orange juice from concentrate, oj with extra pulp, fresh squeezed (Trader Joe's) and finally - an orange. While you can chose the level at which you will participate (it's only an example so stay with me) we often chose excess safety and the easiest of ways. Sort of grasp a piece of life to pull yourself up - to get higher? You can choose or be chosen. Make it happen or let it happen. Life is more than that time between naps.

Let me try again with other metaphors.

Music can bring out the better parts of us, nature can do so as well. But it is generally people who exude the potential pleasures of life: people who know well what the term "life" means. If you look up "existence" in their personal dictionary there will be no entry, it refers you instead to "life". Look there under "life" and you find early evening snowfalls - full moons - sparkling eyes - even the remembrance of an all night ferry rides with a poet. Miss Price's smile is such an offering.

Pray that they reprise the production so we can all enjoy.

Joe Coyne

"Miss Price" (11 - 26 January)
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 358-7529

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide