note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark
This play starts as a very realistic look at a modern adolescent ritual: two boys' fascination with nudie-magazines. As his own director, Jerry Bisantz cast kids of the proper age --- Nick Andrews and Matthew Leavis play kids playing hooky in order to pore over one's father's secret stash of porn. The flavor of the illicit --- from skipping some classes to break into your own house when parents are working, to getting a first glimpse of the secret world of grown-ups --- tinges everything here. The kids are as honest and accurate as they can be at that age, but the writing here is beautifully, comically realistic.
But the play hits a different level of honesty when Dad (Tom Berry) also plays hooky from work to bring a co-worker (Shelly Wood) home for a sexual fling. Again, the writing is solid on a different level of comedy, but turns a whole different corner when Dad looks off-stage into a closet to see his own son.
This is Bisantz at his best, giving the cast gritty truth to deal with. It gets better and better every surprising moment.
It took a few of subtle hints in Patrick Brennan's lecture/monologue before audiences caughht on that he played a government doctor trying to convince the few last hold-outs to accept a drug-implant that would continually re-harmonize all the chemicals in our brains for maximum tranquility and absence of stress. He seemed under the gun from some superior hoping he could make converts quickly, and that in itself made Him somewhat stressed. The fact that the skeleton he used as a prop improvised an ad-lib or two of its own the first night out of the box only heightened his performance.
Norman Lasca's piece had a really timid and shy patient (Dawn Tucker) brow-beaten by Kathleen Mahoney's bulldozer of a psychiatrist. The "Trigger" of the title is a springboard-like act that can launch the patient into a newer, freer state of mind. The doctor's initial task is to goad his patient into admitting that her own sister "was fucking my husband" instead of "falling in love". So what if the doctor tried (unsuccessfully) in the past to get her to take out a massive insurance-policy and then to buy a gun. Is she hoping to be the beneficiary when her patient snuffs herself? Is she a scheming closet lesbian? Will the woman actually shoot her own psychiatrist with the pistol the doctor provides? The air crackles around this intense pair, though the motivations remain enigmatic on both sides.
George Sauer puts two men at a table, come to discuss why an imaginative and successful architect (Jason Myatt) could possibly quit the firm cold to apprentice himself to "Mama Clown" in the art of bending balloons into animals or helmets. Justin Budinoff's junior architect, sent to entice him back with total freedom to design a major skyscraper, at first ridicules the odd life-switch, but ends up bending balloons himself! The juxtaposition of different life-choices looks less and less ridiculous as the puffy animals take shape before your very eyes!
There is another enticement back to life in Patrick Cleary's examination of identity, glamor, and wigs. Sharon Mason plays a woman with thirty b-movie roles to her credit sitting bald and depressed in a cancer hospital. Enter Iain Bason in full drag and big hair with a wig that recreates the actress' first big role --- one he says he uses in a drag-act in which he "creates the illusion" that he is bringing the film star, live, into his audiences' presence. So what if she was merely famous, never a great actress --- the glamor if not the art was real, and still is. The drag-queen convinces the lady to don the wig, the make-up, and the dress to re-assume the glamorous illusion --- of her Self!
Again, two people at a table --- first date between a relaxed woman who identifies with Myrna Loy in the "Thin Man" movies, and an admittedly unsatisfied man who believes he could do a better job of running things than God does. While Jason Myatt and Kim Anton reveal themselves to one another, poor Lisa Burdick is their patient but ignored waitress hoping to get their order. As directed by one of the pair of writers, this play flows along like a meandering brook with delightful quirks and diversions. When he asks, rhetorically, "Now what was it we were talking about?" "God," supplies the waiting waitress without batting an eye. Maybe nothing of significance happens here, but all three people are delightful conversationalists.
Here Randy Farias' Bob simply cannot stop adding another prayer or two, or six. There's so much he would like to ask of God. And --- though the words are never heard --- his questions get answered! Such as --- the "forbidden fruit" was really eggplant; only two men have ever made it to Heaven (which is actually a buffet); "touching yourself --- you know --- there" never offends God in the slightest, but only Bob himself has ever piously refrained; oh, and The Secret of Life that is so magnificent it explains everything, which Bob cannot quite remember when he goes to write it down later.
Obviously, this is a magnificent romp --- a clever stand-up routine that Farias and director Jason Myatt turn into a surprisingly tender dialogue for one.
For this play David Andrews uses the magic of theater --- the ability of an audience, breathing together in the darkness, to call up people from the past and to get them to say what they never could in life. Here Jason Myatt is the theatrical sorcerer, attempting to bring his dead father (Robert Allen) into being again briefly. A taciturn college professor, exhausted every night from talking so openly to his students, father seemed never to have anything to say to his own son --- until now. Standing almost in the wings, listening to this final reconcilliation, Mother (Kim Anton) listens to the son's final acceptance of what she's insisted all aong --- that his father loved him after all.
This is a softly poetic piece, lyrical both in the detail and imagery, and lyrical in the use of theater. The man calls on the audience to participate in this ritual, that actually summons his father, in a raincoat and a wet umbrella, from their midst. He invokes summers, and the iced-tea this hesitant pair enjoyed together. And technical wizard John MacKenzie the director adds both the sound of August crickets as they resolve their differences.
Did YOU know that Jennifer Grey, who looked Jewish in the film "Dirty Dancing" bobbed her
nose and was then in five films in which no one noticed her tiny goyishe schnozz?
I didn't. But Robert Mattson has two women impatient for "the proceedure" explain this to illustrate his point about being who you are. Ceit McCaleb-Zweil is there for a boob-job (enhancement) Jennifer Shotkin for a nose-job (diminishment) --- and both ask and explain and argue about the motivations for such acts, since each has what the other wants. Which doesn't ignore a lot of crisply hip zingers spicing up the conversation. ("How big do you want 'em? I mean, do you want to turn a few heads, or do you want to stop traffic?")
Robert Mattson directed his own play, which begins with silent anxiety, rushes into the exhuberant confessions only total strangers can achieve, wrestles with serious ideas of self-identity, and all the while has Kim Anton as an apologetic nurse walking through with ever more ominous hand-props explaining exactly why the off-stage skin-sculptor is running later and later on his appointments today. The blend of comedy and serious strike exactly the right notes as the women learn more about each other, and about themselves.
Finally some more general comments:
A good play is one that gets better the better the casts who slip on its characters and walk around in them, the better the sharp eye of a director can emphasize the humanity and emotions boiling within it. And The Hovey Summer Shorts every year --- and particularly this year, has demonstrated the good in more new plays than you'd believe possible.
The Summer Shorts (and the Playwrights' Platform Summer Festival that preceeds it every year, the Ritalin Readings at The Theatre Collective in Somerville, and the Acme New Plays in Maynard) have begun to function as "dress rehearsals" for The Boston Theater Marathon nrxt April.
Even the simple comedies this year are About Something --- many of them movingly so.
I think all eighteen of the scripts Hovey chose to do this summer should be candidates for The Marathon next year. And one reason I can say this is that it was obvious that the actors walking around in these characters, the directors' eyes ready with sandpaper and nuance, are second to no one in craft and in imagination. And that means that these scripts, cheek-by-jowl as they are spilled across the stage like pick-up-stix, are shown at their best.
I wouldn't have said, last Saturday, that a second set of plays could possibly be any better8
Well, obviously, they could!