Theatre Mirror Reviews - A Night of "Quickies"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

A Night of "Quickies"

Directed by Shiela Stasack
Lighting Design by Amy Lee
Stage Manager Samantha French


by Janet Kenney

Martha..............Cyndi Geller
Joey.................Peter Snoad

"The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie"

by Lois Roach

Mandy...............Jessica Chance
Miz Ellie............Kelly Lawman
Mr. Taylor.............Peter Snoad
Joshua............Dewayne Nelson

"Relative Strangers"

by Sheri Wilner

Virginia..........................Kameelah Benjamin-Fuller
Marie Barrett................................Helen McElwain
Marie Harney......................................Cyndi Geller


by Susanna Ralli

Man........................Peter Snoad
Woman...............Kelly Lawman

"Labor Day"

by Sheri Wilner

The Girl, 5............. Helen McElwain
Party Goers
Jessica Chance, Kameelah Benjamin-Fuller, Dewayne Nelson, Kelly Lawman

The most important thing here is that the acting is excellent. Director Sheila Stasack bounces them from play to play, costume to costume, emotion to emotion to confrontation. They clear and set their own props, find their lights, and serve a wide variety of styles and ideas served up by four different playwrights in five different plays. They are quick, and interesting.

There is a standard formula for writing a play: throw two interesting people together in an unusual place. Give them a problem, and listen to what they say. The more interesting the playwright can make every element of that formula, the better the play will be.

For instance, put a man (Peter Snoad) and a woman (Kelly Lawman) in the presence of a fragile old piece of sculpture he has just bought, and let them spiral around it talking as much about each other as about the work of art: "Critique" by Susanna Ralli. Amy Lee's lights here are broodingly dark, as are the costumes. The brightly lit, brightly draped plinth centerstage. The play is slightly controlled, with each critic playing verbal tennis, raising and refining conflicting opinions until the final, shattering conclusion.

Sheri Wilner puts two strangers named Marie (Cyndi Geller and Helen McIlwain) in tight airliner seats, the younger asking, pleading, demanding advice though they are obviously "Relative Strangers". The elder asks, pleads, demands to move to a less chatty seat, but The Stewardess From Hell (Kameelah Benjamin-Fuller) is actually a goddess-ex-machina, or perhaps the playwright in disguise, and suggests a little compassionate understanding. The mix is hilarious.

In another quickie, Wilner throws Helen McElwain --- who can become a 5-year-old at the drop of a cue --- into a "Labor Day" party celebrating the last day of the year you can wear white. The entire cast for the Quickies romp about the stage as boisterous conformists, while Helen is the only questioner.

Janet Kenny's pair of people are a wife (Cyndi Geller) whose husband (Peter Snoad) insists he wants to be "ExtraOrdinaire" --- and wants to join the circus as a clown to do it. The language is off the wall and over the top, the pair "act out" their argument with gonkgonk-horn and custard pie as what could be a rational argument of desire versus security gets expressed physically rather than in merely verbal terms.

The one short play that doesn't fit the formula is Lois Roach's "The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie". This vibrantly-acted piece is so presentational it looks more like a narrated slide-show than a play. The characters rarely inhabit the same space; they stand, either in isolated area-lighting, or to the side in front of a set, talking full-front to the audience about their characters, others, and their interactions. At one point actors --- in excellently expressive mid 1860's costumes --- cross the stage and pointedly Notice each other, without even speaking. End of scene.

Yet, despite the absence of anything like dramatic interaction, the hints of story about these two women are intensely realized. Each is thrown into marriage (for the White) and rape (for the Black) when barely into their teens, then thrown through the upheaval that not so much the Civil War but the freeing of slaves created. Small, compressed Jessica Chance plays the obedient body-slave grown into a respectful but self-possessed individual. Kelly Lawman plays a plantation wife incapable of change yet envious of the fact that her slave bore her own husband's illegitimate child while she cannot. This is a story that wants to grow up and become an excellent movie.

The sense of the evening is of a set of doors slamming quickly open and quickly shut on five very different worlds in which familiar faces pop up on very different personae. And the acting really shines.


A Night of "Quickies" (1 - 4, 15 - 18 & 19 March)
Boston Women On Top Festival
Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commomnwealth Avenue, BOSTON

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