note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark
First some general comments:
It's almost imp[ossible for me to separate the Hovey Players as people from their work in this continually satisfying and surprising festival of new works for the stage.These Community Theatre people attack the work with gusto and appreciation --- whether it's choosing eighteen ten-minute plays out of the seventy-nine scripts submitted, or finding directors and actors, or rehearsing and performing, or providing tech and organization and publicity and cookies for the act-break. I got there closing night, and found almost as many standees thronging the rear of the auditorium (it seats fifty-two!) as people who found seats. which means that the people in and around Waltham know a wonderful thing when they hear about it. What they and I saw was excellent, exciting, unexpected theater --- a festival which everyone enjoyed working on or, like me, just watching the best damn theatre in this area doing what they do best.
Now for a look at what I saw:
Saul Slapikoff's play is a comedy with bite. Phyllis Weaver as a retired schoolteacher of 85, facing a huge rent increase. In an attempt to pay the new charges --- and to stick it to the crass landlord, she produces her dead husband's police special in a hold-up of the landlord's local convenience store. At her age she feels she cannot leave the neighborhood she's lived in nearly all her life.
But the landlord's son is a frustrated English scholar forced out of college by his dad --- and Mrs. Morrissey's former student. Ultimately, the pair reach out to one another, talking sanity and suggesting alternatives --- a tenants' strike on one hand, night-school on the other.
The play might use one more tightening re-write, but Jerry Bisantz' cast gave it a good reading that showed up not only its weakness but its many strengths. And it's good to see a local playwright tackling local political problems in a dramatic confrontation.
Bill Doncaster's play won a cash prize at the Playwrights' Platform Summer Festival this year, and this was the acting team that made it happen. That production was Joanna Nix' "Boston stage debut" after paying her dues as such things as a mouse and a duckling in Concord. (Nix is ten years old.)
The play is a slice of life --- a divorced father and his kid growing back together after some argument, while they wait in Pennsylvania Station for the train to his place. They play a game of making up stories about the other people they see waiting for trains --- and what they create illuminates each one's life, somewhat.
This intimate little microcosm fit beautifully into the Abbott Memorial Theatre's equally intimate stage, where the flick of an eyeball registers even from the back row, and being heard is never a problem.
Though the subtext says a lot about these two, to my mind there is more that remains unwritten. Each time I've seen it I thought it a snippet out of a longer script intending to grow up to be an even more powerful television play. (The play opens with a thoughtful guitar solo written byMichael Aldrich: good music, but over-long as an intro, and adding little to the show itself. Again, the overtones of television or film rather than theater were what hit me.)
To my taste there is a little too much in Andrew S. Burns' script, in which divorced parents flying home from the marriage of their son confess to a faint fire on the ashes of their love, replay old fantasies of one day living in Paris, mumble their dreams as they try to catch a little sleep, and betray their differing reactions to the fact that their son was marrying another man.
Confined to a bank of seats on a 747, Rick Carpenter and Ronni Marshak did their best under Robert Runck's direction with a play that seemed to have no skewer holding the dramatic shishkebob together. Each element in this wayward script could become a play all its own, but they all seemed uncomfortable as they justled with one another for attention.
Wendy Feign Golden really nailed this acid-etched portrait of a beauty-pageant mom explaining why she drives her daughter to learn "talent" routines and hit every pageant she can find --- "My first husband beat me; no one beats you if you're beautiful!" An easy, cigarette-steeped Southern accent added depth and honesty to this committed, dedicated mother's pride in her daughter, in her self, and in her slightly skewed view of life. You see, the professional beauty-queen in Elizabeth Marshall's script happens to be four years old.
For such a small play, Elisabeth Burdick's script wrestles with big ideas. I mean, how does an artist of any sort define Success? Here Korinne T. Hertz played a sculptor with no sales from her latest exhibition, but with a commission: they want her to carve a statue of Vince Lombardy --- out of Green Bay cheese! And this sparks her memory of seeing a lot of good dancers trying to work with an old, out of shape Baryshnikov who, even in his twilight, outshone and outdanced them all.
Director Patrick Cleary tweaked and sandpapered two fine performances here Michael Tomasulo, back again not as a teen-ager but as her husband, played excellent support as a husband ready to back her decision either to accept the notareity of the commission or to reject the insult to her talent. But there is the money...
Of course, this little play implies a serious question: if your intention is to wrestle with Williams and Miller and Stoppard and Mamet, is inclusion in the Hovey Summer Shorts a triumph? Considering the quality of the work here, my vote is a resounding "Yes!"
Here Steve Smith takes a comic situation and pushes it to the extreme: Sean's teacher at a new private school (Stacy Fischer) holds a get-acquainted meeting with his parents. They are Kay Moriarty and Brad Schiff as a pair of rich "beautiful people" who think him a quiet, withdrawn, moody, introspective kid. But, wonder of wonders, a second set of parents shows up: the man's first wife and her lesbian lover (Wendy Feign & Ronni Marshak), who share his week and consider him a happy, outgoing, imaginative leader-type with lots of friends. His teacher tries to be positive, and Sean-focused through the sort of broken-home bickering this entails --- when an unmarried middle-wife (Korinne Hertz)arrives to add her three cents to the brawling uproar!
But Teach is familiar enough with grade-school uproar to cut the lights on them all before reading a riot-act about childish nonsense and, as they all agree to put young Sean's welfare first, the kid walks in, and the play ends.
Playwright Elisabeth Burdick directed this flawless cast, keeping the surprises coming and seeing to it that each turn of plot was an unexpected surprise. Stacy Fischer's pauses and "takes" as more and more parents arrive with their excess baggage functioned as a sort of thumb-tack holding the whole thing together.
William Donnelley deals with the delights and the difficulties of an extra-marital affair. Jason Yaitanes asks for more --- for a long week-end away together --- while Michelle Aguillon insists on holding her real family together. Director Tom Lawlor opted for a physical intimacy here that a camera would love, and honest deails and responses from two exceptional Hovey Players.
Actually, I found the production too intimate, oddly enough. Murmured lines sometimes didn't project, giving the impression that the pair were playing for one another rather than for the audience. Engrossing though this can be, I would expect a bit more volume from such good actors.
Playwright Leora Falk and actress Laura Robbins are both finishing New Jewish High School, and Falk's play deals head-on with the Yiddishkite dress-code for Orthodox jewesses --- long skirts, no pants. Kate Bisantz was the upright accuser, Robbins the closet rebel brought to America and adopted by a rule-obsessed family. There are hints that gratitude for rescue from the troubles in Israel cannot bend this young woman to arbitrary restrictions.
For three people in their teens, this was a surprisngly mature handling of the specific conflict and the craft of making theatre. And no doubt the experienced direction of Ronni Marshak had something to do with the grown-up look of this young play.
Who better than the playwright, Glen Doyle, to play the hapless unattached man sitting at a table expecting a series of women to get five fast minutes apiece in which to decide to date him or not. As Teri Muller, Judith Broggi and Sydelle Pitas took their intensive passes, the poor man tried to learn from his mistakes, to tell each successive prospect what the previous lady said she wanted to hear --- but three strikes mean you're out! Ronnie Marshak walked through this comic nightmare like a silent, runaway tank eager for the next encounter even if she had to go right into the audience to initiate it --- and the upbeat hostess for the evening was Michelle Aguillon as a Vanna White like-a-look. Director Fred Robbins sorted everything out, and Doyle's eagerly romantic yet continually frustrated face was the central target for one slap of smiling rejection after another.
Finally some more general comments:
The Hovey talent-pool continues to grow, as new actors find what a fine atmosphere these people work in, and the Summer Shorts provides a chance for some of them to try directing a finite little play --- filling in each detail, teasing out nuances, testing the weight of a pause or the proper pace. The writing is good, the performerstop-notch, and the atmosphere of positive competition among peers who work well and often together never the appreciation of work well done.
And the parties are a blast as well! The Hovey crew plays just as hard as they work, and that is really saying something...