Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Summer Shorts 2003"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"Summer Shorts 2003"

The Summer Shorts at The Hovey Players' Abbott Memorial Theatre has become a major showcase for theatrical talent of all sorts in this area. This week, on Thursday through Saturday nights, the Players will bring alive Fifteen new and original scripts, Nine new songs, and Two different vest-pocket (or maybe the phrase should be "watch-pocket") new musicals. The three different slates of shows were all doing S.R.O. business all three nights last week, and The Shorts is the hottest ticket in town. If you don't already have a firm reservation for tickets, you might get to the Abbott Really Early and join a long line of people hoping for a cancellation or two. But, if you haven't arranged tickets, probably the only way to find out what you will miss is to read these reviews.
Here's the basic information:

"Summer Shorts 2003"

The Hovey Players
Lighting Design by Jeremy Medicus
Set Design by John MacKenzie
Stage Manager Ann Garvin
Producer Jerry Bisantz


"For Ellen"

Written & Directed by Carl Danielson

Mom...............Kate Blair
Ellen.........Laura DeCesare
Rodney...........Ryan Garvin

"7 & 7"

by William Donnelly
Directed by Luke Dennis

Drinker.............Michelle Aguillon
Bartender.................Leigh Berry

"Crab Legs"

by George Sauer
Directed by J. Mark Baumhardt

Tonya/Waitress........Margaret McCarty
Jeff....................Christian Russ
Shawn....................Dave Sheppard

"Doctor Please!"

by Glen Victor Doyle
Directed by Sydelle Pittas

Doctor.............Sharon Mason
Patient.......Glen Victor Doyle

"More Than What?"

by Janet Kenney
Directed by Darren Evans

Andrea..........Leigh Berry
Jack.............Ian Dowell
Melody.........Lauren Tyers
Eve.........Terri Trespicio

"King Peacock"

Book by Richard Rousseau
Music & Lyrics by Barry Rosenberg
Directed by David Frieze
Music Director Steve Price

Beauty................JulieAnn Govang
Nurse...................Ronni Marshak
Cherie................Naomi Gurt Lind
Ogre.....................Steve Lillis
King Peacock..........Guiseppe Raucci


"Am I Perfect?"
by Barry Rosenberg
Sung by Jerry Bisantz

"Dinin' Out at Capt. Bob's"
by Newcomb & Ajemian
Sung by Jaime Steinbach & Jerry Bisantz

"My Ideal"
by Yoho Myvaagnes & Esra Keshet
Sung by Kathy Dalton & Kevin St. Gelais
Staging by Jerry Bisantz

"What Did I Do to Deserve You?"
by Kerry Zukus
Sung by JulieAnn Govang

Steve Price (17 July) David Rose (25 July)


"The Ten Minute Workshop"

by Con Chapman
Directed by Lisa Burdick

Announcer/Timekeeper...Ronni Marshak
Student.................Gordon Ellis
Instructor........Jacquelyn Therieau
Singer...............Naomi Gurt Lind
Actor...............Kevin St Gervais

"Claire Danes Poster"

by Tom Berry
Directed by Dave Sheppard

Tim...................J. Mark Baumhardt
Josh......................Judson Pierce

"Ten Proms"

Written & Directed by Patrick Cleary

James.............Kevin St. Gelais
Karen............Michelle Aguillon
Julia.............Jennifer Kaufman
Rachel.............Kathleen Dalton
Nikki................Holly Vanasse
Anna.........Shannon Lillian Hogan
Erica...............Julia Van Daam
Dianna.................Laura Kozuh
Gina....................Cindy Bell
Marie...........Jacquelyn Therieau
Francine...............Leigh Berry

"Grandpa's Rewind"

by Robert Mattson
Directed by Maria Silvaggi

Grampa...........Richard Berger
Grandson...........Gordon Ellis
Wife...............Martha Kelly


by Barry Oshry
Co-Directed by Jonathan Mirin& Jason Grossman

Deborah.......Ashleigh Beyer
David...........Bill Doscher
Mother.........Ronni Marshak

"Artist's Anonymous"

by Ginger Lazarus
Directed by Darren Evans

Shep...Alexander Albregts

"King Peacock"



"Am I Perfect?

"Sisyphus Ain't Got Nuthin' On Me"
Music by Steve Bergman & Lyrics by David Kruh
Jaimie Steinbach, Jerry Bisantz & Suellen DeVit
Accompanied by Steve Bergman

"Being New"
by Barry Rosenberg
Sung by Jaimie Steinbach

"Losin' It"
Music by Lisa Houseman & Lyrics by Rosanna Alfaro
Sung by Lisa Houseman

Accompanied by Steve Price (Week One) or David Rose (Second Week)



by Peter Gordon
Directed by Jerry Bisantz
Assistant Director Ann Garvin

Woman..............Kerrie Miller
Man...............Michael Govang

"Save The Universe"

by Shannon Allen
Directed by Michelle Aguillon

Dad played by played by Dad...................J. Mark Baumhardt
Daughter.....................Giulia Davis

"Old Flame"

Directed by Jason Taylor


"Upside Down Perfection Cake"

by Kathleen Rogers
Directed by Fran Weinberg

Ellen.............Eve Passeltiner
Chorus...............Rick Park

"Not Big Enough for Both of Us"

Written & Directed by Christian Russ Fletcher

John.........Gordon Ellis
Susan......Donna Spurlock

"The History of Nails"

Developed by Christine Cannavo, Larry Coen, Stephen Gilbane & Don Schuerman
Produced by Musical Improv Company

Bobby........................................................Max Bisantz
Dad........................................................Jerry Bisantz
Docent One, Peking Man, Pilate, George.....................Cliff Zawashy
Docent Two, Lucy, Empress, Martha....................Cheryl D. Singleton
Caveman, Jesus, Robert Brad, Toby............................Bill Folman
Docent Three, Givernor, Marie Antoinette, Laura Ingals...Elaine Theodore


"Am I Perfect?"

"Tangible Assets"
Music by Steve Price & Lyrics by Philip Carl Staged & Performed by Jennifer Condon

"After All"
Music by Steve Price & Lyrics by Philip Carl
Sung by Kate Blair & Jerry Bisantz

"On A Three Mile Stretch of Sand"
Written & Performed by Ed Biggins, Jr.

As a general rule here, I've noticed that good scripts seem to attract good actors (Directors too!) who revel visibly in the opportunity to slip themselves into new, fascinating characters to react with others, and with audiences. In other words, some plays always stand out --- not so much because of excellent performances after only minimal rehearsals, but because their potential is obvious.

But the form itself ("..ten minutes or fourteen pages, whichever comes up first.." as Con Chapman's script says) attracts not merely short plays, but comedy skits, which often look like elaborate set-ups to final punch-lines. Writing or performing skits is as much both an art and a craft as doing plays (as I think I said somewhere before), and I'll cover them separately.

Then what, to me, is a play? A ten-minute play?

Well, take "Save The Universe" by Shannon Allen as an example: Father () and daughter() need a break from work and home-work, so he asks her what movie she'd make if, magically, she could? All the movies, comics, and computer games she knows are reflected in her scenario --- and unstated subtexts too. She wonders what movie her mother might make, and speculates that it'd be a romance full of "mushy stuff" and dancing --- and suddenly a character not even present takes shape, even though reasons for her absence are never stated. And so, three people reveal themselves by their conversation, and facts and possibilities come alive.
That's a play. In this case, it is the playwright's very first play --- perhaps not so wide as a church-door nor deep as a well, but 'tis enough; 'twill serve.

And the "Best" play? Well, I (in my personally myopic opinion, remember) choose three --- one funny, one not, one ... well both:

Kathleen Rogers' "Upside Down Perfection Cake" performed at an intricately-detailed breakneck pace by Eve Passeltiner and Rick Park (under Fran Weinberg's excellent direction) has the form of an "illustrated" monologue by a woman so determined not to imitate her "high maintainence" Mother she ends up the spit and image of her! From the hundred strokes a day of her mum's fierce hairbrush, to the booming orders of her "time-management coach" Rick Park plays everyone else in her life, including "Mr. Alright" to progeny from rug-rat to soccer-slacker --- each lurching from one single-sentence life-stage to another. The gooey cake of the title is always the one symbol of wasted effort she eschews --- until mom, in her eternal apron, is suddenly not around to pass on the recipe. The physicalizations are quick, total, astonishingly accurate, and the laughs of recognition grow into rolling waves of satirical truth.

"Peace" by Barry Oshry also stakes out wide territory. Bill Doscher plays arabbi whose dinner homily preached understanding, cooperation and tolerance, while his angry daughter (Ashleigh Beyer) insists Palestinians should be treated as the U.S. did Indians --- they've lost their wars, "let them sit in their Reservations and shut up!" The argument is heartfelt and serious on each side --- chided by the off-stage voice of Mother (Ronni Marshak) calling them back to the socially argument-less dinner table. My prejudices made me side with dad, but it was refreshing to see both real sides of this real conflict fairly and emotionally stated in an argument that has no simple solution.

Patrick Cleary's "Ten Proms" saves its serious barb for the end. It starts with a distraught young man (Kevin St. Gelais) telling someone on his cell-phone that he has swallowed everything in his medicine-chest. The play then merges into his mind as ten different women one by one enter to re-enact or to comment upon the prom he escorted her to --- in all cases as her Second Choice, because he happens to be Gay. The information is quietly, laconically, subtly revealed, with each unique date having a unique reason for choosing, or ending-up with, this individual. Cleary deftly demonstrated his theatrical expertise by both writing and directing this little gem. The ladies, in order, were: Michelle Aguillon, Jennifer Kaufman, Kathleen Dalton, Holly Vanasse, Shannon Lillian Hogan, Julia Van Daam, Laura Kozuh, Cindy Bell, Jacquelyn Therieau, and Leigh Berry.

"Old Flame" by Patrick Brennan is the only real monologue on the bill. The protagonist () stands on stage with a cigarette asking the audience for a lighter, and then proceeds to deal with both meanings for "flame". Her one prop is a shoe-box in which she has secreted both the lighters she had unwittingly collected at a surprising rate, and the lovely but wounding letters she'd had from a lover who left her for a prettier, richer girl. She's waiting for a time when the lovely letters no longer lighten her heart, at which time she'll burn them all --- and start smoking once again. A neat, but small and tightly controlled script. Three of the plays deal with mourning:
In "For Ellen" (directed by the playwright Carl Danielson) a distraught Mom (Kate Blair) shares directly with the audience her difficulties trying to get her repressed son (Ryan Garvin) to deal rationally with his best playmate. In an excellently controlled performance by one so young, Garvin speaks to an invisible Ellen (Laura DeCesare), while stubbornly insisting Mom build a life-like robot to take his friend's place.

Robert Mattson's tour de force "Grandpa's Rewind" (directed by Maria Silvaggi) Richard Berger plays a grandfather making an eighth-birthday tape-letter to his grandson, and getting his wife to make tea so he can confide to the boy his affection and his feelings of family and manly pride in doing what men do. As the tape ends with Berger frozen in mid-sentence, the gradson and his pregnant wife (Gordon Ellis and Martha Kelly) step onstage to prove the much-replayed tape had a life-affirming effect.

Tom Berry's haiku-like "Claire Danes Poster" has Tim (J. Mark Baumhardt) brooding over the poster in question when his lighter-hearted friend (Judson Pierce) comes to take him to the funeral of Tim's fiancee. Most of this neatly spare play emerges from subtext and silences, since Berry deftly refuses to say anything an audience should be able to infer. This, his first play, seems exactly the kind of play an actor would write, and other actors would kill to perform. (Dave Sheppard directed)

That was one of three plays I had seen in short-play festivals before. In William Donnelley's "7 & 7" Michelle Aguillon (this time directed by Luke Dennis) again played a single-minded drinker confident that her passion for Seagram's Seven will bring on a death she's comfortable knowing is in store. Her silent bartender here was Leigh Berry.

Just as it's impossible to step into the "same" river twice, seeing the "same" play again doesn't always result in a reliable critique from a reviewer. I felt that, at the third time, "7 & 7" was less vibrant than when it was new to me --- while "More Than What?" by Janet Kenney felt better. Could it be that Leigh Berry, playing a new bride determined to confess that her bridesmaid french-kissed her minutes after the I-do's, did a better job, or was it more that the play was less puzzling second time around? (One thing I do know: Lauren Tyers stepped into her role here, cold, three days before performance. Maybe it was That source of tension that electrified this odd little play.

Now about those comedy skits:
Since they're simpler --- usually! --- they seem easier to describe:
In "Not Big Enough for Both of Us" Gordon Ellis plays a man comparing himself unfavorably to a rival in business --- an old lover of his wife (Donna Spurlock), actually --- until he finds out he has a "significant inch" on him, and night turns into day! (Christian Russ Fletcher directed his own play.)

In Glen Victor Doyle's "Doctor Please!" Doyle himself plays a man examined by a doctor because he's asked for a prescription for viagra. But the doctor (Sharon Mason) is female! --- or is this just a marital role-play fantasy? Only director Sydelle Pittas can tell for sure!

The salesman and customer (Michael Govang & Kerrie Miller) in Peter Gordon's "Showroom" talk about elegant fine furniture, cars, and wallets, but Director Jerry Bisantz and his assistant Ann Garvin see that the lines fairly seethe with sexual subtext

Ginger Lazarus' "Artist's Anonymous" is a confessional talk by an A.A. member on his kicking a life-long art habit to find wealth, happiness and peace of mind as a C.P.A. The man is Alexander Albregts, and he's directed by Darren Evans.

The premise of "Crab Legs" by George Sauer is that the professional manager (Christian Russ and bodyguard (Dave Sheppard) of an Olympic ice-skater could agree to attack the leg of her major rival in the same way a waitress suggests they crack the legs of their steamed clams --- far-fetched and fantastic as that idea is! Margaret McCarty played both the waitress and the skater named Tonya so well I didn't realize there weren't two women! Or was it J. Mark Baumhardt's direction that made it work so well?

Of course, my own favorite comedy sketch is "The Ten Minute Workshop" by Con Chapman, in which Gordon Ellis decides to audit an acting class taught by Jacquelyn Therieau --- a more or less "Method" instructor giving peculiar exercizes --- like delivering ad-campaign slogans as though you were King Lear or Blanche DuBois. Before they progress very far they're interrupted by one-line walk-ons by Naomi Gurt Lind (as a singer)Kevin St Gervais (as an actor) and Ronni Marshak as a time-keeping official. Lisa Burdick directed this satirical send-up of acting schools skated smoothly and quickly across my favorite pastime.

And then on the bill were two minimusicals, both with lots of creative crew:

"King Peacock" has a Book by Richard Rousseau, Music & Lyrics by Barry Rosenberg, Direction by David Frieze, and Music Direction by Steve Price.
In it Beauty (JulieAnn Govang) is a mercilessly vain Southern Belle rejecting all suitors as unworthy, then cursed by a spurned wizard and magically given a daughter (Naomi Gurt Lind) whose beauty outshines her mom's. Her reaction of course is to hide the girl and her loving nurse (Ronni Marshak), try to have her killed and thus force her to flee into a world filled with a sleep-invoking seed, a beauty-bedazzled ogre (Steve Lillis), and finally the kiss of a King Peacock (Guiseppe Raucci). The story features songs, mime, and "story theatre" style multi-role actors. The show looks like a children's story that, like most good children's theatre, has levels of mythic truths to appeal equally to parent minds.

"The History of Nails" on the other hand is a bombastic pastiche of parodies worked up by the Musical Improv Company. "Who invented the nail?" asks Max Bisantz (playing "Bobby") of his father Jerry Bisantz (playing "Dad") and, with the help of a Magic Hammer transporting them back through time to sketches and songs about the rock-shard Cavemen used to hang dinosaur skins over the cave-mouth, to the nails needed by Jesus and Pilate, down to a parody of the ("What do you get??") final song in Sondheim's "Company". Cliff Zawashy, Bill Folman, and Cheryl D. Singleton are Improv stars who play Everyone Else in this shamelessly funny romp.


The new element in this sixth or seventh Summer Shorts slate is new songs, accompanied by an electric piano, laced through the new plays. They are mostly new "show tunes" that might be orchestrated and dropped into a new musical's book some day.

I am ill-equipped to pass judgement on music, but "On A Three Mile Stretch of Sand" (written & performed by Ed Biggins, Jr.) blew me away. It's a hymn to the seaside charms of Revere Beach!
And "Losin' It" with lyrics by Rosanna Alfaro, sung by the Composer Lisa Houseman , had unique charms as well.

Kerry Zukus' "What Did I Do to Deserve You?", sung by JulieAnn Govang, "Tangible Assets" by Steve Price & Philip Carl, performed by Jennifer Condon, and "Being New" by Barry Rosenberg, sung by Jaimie Steinbach, are solid star-turn (new!) cabaret classics done "in one" by soon-to-be stars.
There are love-duets ("After All" by Steve Price & Carl sung by Kate Blair & Jerry Bisantz; "My Ideal" by Yoho Myvaagnes & Esra Keshet sung by Kathy Dalton & Kevin St. Gelais), Newcomb & Ajemian provide drollery in "Dinin' Out at Capt. Bob's" sung by Jaime Steinbach & Jerry Bisantz, David Kruh & Steve Bergman compare modern life with myth in their "Sisyphus Ain't Got Nuthin' On Me" and Jaimie Steinbach, Jerry Bisantz & Suellen DeVit shared its bouncy rhymes, and Jerry Bisantz singing Barry Rosenberg's "Am I Perfect?" must be seen to be believed!

I guess what I'm saying is the "pot-puree" of the Hovey Summer Shorts is a gold-mine of surprises to suit every taste.
But each night this week, get there an hour early and pray for a cancellation to become one of the 52 lucky people filling seats!


The Summer Shorts 2003 (17 - 26 July)
The Abbott Memorial Theatre, 9 Spring Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide