note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark
Producers Michael Jacobs & Patrick Cleary
Sound Design by Andrea Butler
The five two-character playlets and two monologues that Patrick Cleary has written, directed, and co-produced for the Next Door Theatre are thematically interconnected, and filled with fully rounded, believable characters that his actors must enjoy slipping on and walking around inside. The performances at the Volpe Center Auditorium are sincere and enjoyable, and highly recommended --- the auditorium was woefully unfilled when I saw them on a Friday night. And since this review will contain quibbles and recommendations for improvements, let me say at the beginning that my aim is not to steer eager audiences away from what I think is a good show, but to encourage excellence in an already satisfying set of engrossing plays.
The plays are loosely united by several themes. Family interactions, for instance: mother/son, older/younger sister, husband/wife. In these playlets, a genuine hate/love relationship that perfectly mirrors the show's "Statics and Dynamics" overall title. In "Penny Drops" it's a toss-up whether the long-standing flamboyant behavior of one sibling, or the single lapse in judgement of the other really caused their sister's death in a motor accident. In the monologue "Elephant" an elder sister's conviction that her younger sister is the favorite is exaggerated when they both get what they want as birthday presents: the elder a luggage set, the younger a full-grown pet elephant. For mother and son in "On The Way Home" there's chafing on both sides about over-protection since both characters lost their fathers in early age. And in "Winchester" the married pair fight over behavior quirks, but know at bottom that they fit together much more than they could ever diverge.
In a sense, the word "sorry" which reappears in several plays is a unifying theme. It's used both to express genuine remorse, and as a kind of self-defensive "I regret that You took undue offense where none was intended" --- the ways in which it appears in everyone's everyday speech. Here, however, every time the word occurs its emotional freight is important.
There is also a lot of obsessive/compulsive behavior here. "Winchester" compares the peculiar habits of the widow of the inventor of firearms with a victim of child-abuse, both of whom intend to evade their personal demons by continual rearrangement of their environments. In "Clerestory" a socially inept nerd opens up to a curious hooker in a bus station when she questions his ritual compulsions. The "Penny Drops" in the playlet so named were difficult, damaging acrobatic turns that the younger of two sisters never mastered despite continual failed attempts. In "Tiger" one of a splitting homosexual pair becomes emotionally fixated on a tiger that compulsively attempts to batter down the walls of its zoo cage with its head in a metaphor for human frustration.
All but two of the seven actors here appear twice, and their reappearances act as an interlocking device. There are also hints that these characters may indeed be members of the same family framed differently in each play. Then again, the different personae taken on by Kevin St. Gelais or Michael Tomasulo or Holly Vanasse certainly demonstrate their versatility.
The company bustles brightly onstage acting as their own stagehands, maintaining a probably improvised banter which, since it is neither the businesslike focus of a real stage crew nor the spontaneous interaction of friends comes off as artificial and contrived. In "Clerestory" Kate Mahoney (in her best role) says she is "unemployed" and "self-employed" but though her costume and her forwardness suggests she's a bus-station hooker the actress does little to make that inescapable. Phyllis Uloth's Macarena-monologue "Wedding Dance" is directed at a fellow dancer it's unlikely would silently listen to such a sudden and detailed self-revelation without some sort of response. And every one of these vignettes promises or implies larger issues largely unexplored. And the further interconnectedness that might be emphasized if these are indeed all members of the same family --- if the son on medication in "On The Way Home" is actually the compulsive nerd from "Clerestory"; if the dead sister in "Penny Drops" is really the neglected older sister in "Elephant"; if one of the sisters from "Penny Drops" is truly the wife in "Winchester" --- is only implied though denied by different character-names.
But these suggestions should in no way deter audiences from seeking out these seven interesting, rewarding little plays. They deserve much more attention than they were getting Friday night, and there's only one more week-end to go.