A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "31th Annual Summer Festival of New Plays --- Second Series"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

31th Annual Summer Festival of New Plays
Second Series

Festival Director Patrick Brennan
Festival Technical Director Thomas M. J. Callahan
Festival Stage Manager Jason Ferguson
Lighting & Sound Manager Marc Oliviere
Design Robert Bonotto

Artistic Director..........Georgina Spelvin
Artistic Director..............George Sauer
Board Members
Jerry Bisantz
Patrick Brennan
Stephen Fulchino
Geralyn Horton

The first week's presentations were perfectly arranged for a lengthy discussion of the difference between a play of any length and a comedy-skit no matter how flawlessly crafted. This set of seven plays had a lot more experimental content, much less finish, and not a single sketch. The two best were saved for last.


by Joyce Flynn
Directed by Constance Wilkinson

Isolde.....................Susan Winslow
Catherine...................Mary Arnault
Juleen ("Julia Eileen)...Laura De Cesare

This turns out to be a "teaching play" --- two views of Irish history, and two views of married love are examined, with the dice loaded in each case for the author's favorites.

The form is a wait for news about the husband's probable death in a forgeign land, with the wife (Susan Winslow) unwillingly visited by a neighbor (Mary Arnault) who would have married the husband --- a doctor who has put himself in harm's way as more or less a member of Medicines Sans Frontieres, and probably dead somewhewre in Africa --- and kept him safe in a Nowheresville backwater village in his native Ireland.

The visitor insists she "knows" he is dead, and has brought black cloth to muffle all the mirrors, but she is an insultingly vindictive figure, spewing narrow-minded spite at just the time that a little empathy is most needed. She tells a grim story of The Potato Famine, and the wife counters telling her overhearing daughter (Laura De Cesare) a counter-story based on her own married love.

The ideas are less embodied than merely stated here, and perhaps the material calls for expansion into a lengthier work in which the ideas had room to Be instead of merely to be talked about.

"Outside The Tent"

by George Sauer
Directed by Nancy Curran Willis

Sarah.....Michelle Aguillon
Colin........Forrest Walter
Eric.............Iain Bason

For George Sauer, it's either mosquitoes inside the tent, or snakes outside it, but the course of true camping never does run smooth. Here Michelle Aguillon and Forrest Walker are married chaperpones --- he a teacher --- dealing with a snake that apparently crept in from the cold. His best buddy (Iain Bason) and fellow-teacher also has a (killed) ophidian visitor wrapped about his wrist --- but the real menace of this evening-in-the-rough is the tents-full of black-swathed "Goth" students intent on ringing their chaperones with flaming gasoline.

This flight of fancy upon fancy gives the actors ample opportunity to vent their opinions on the state of American youth, but the offstage voices of the giggling menaces are really in control, and the early reactions to snakes are ill-unified with their vaguely menacing presence later on. This play goes somewhere, but not at ball anywhere expected or very believable.

Director Nancy Curran Willis had good performances from an accomplished cast, but the play developed no real unity of purpose.

"Sweet Home Chicago"

by Karla Sorenson
Directed by James Lynch & BJ Wells
Stage Manager Max MacLean

Alex............Nathan Meyers
Jaimie........Vicki Righettini

I wonder why playwrights think a wide couple of seats and a steering-wheel are enough to create the illusion on stage of people driving somewhere. (Yes, I know I was the Stage-Manager in a high-school production of Thornton Wilder's one-act "The Happy Journey from Trenton to Camden" --- my stage debut --- but thirty years later I actually learned to drive, and the illusion has been ahrder and harder to believe ever since. Sorry Mrs. Small!!!)

This is a pair of Cambridge marrieds (Nathan Meyers and Vicki Righettini) driving about the flatlands of Illinois toward another holiday confrontation with her mid-west family --- with jokes about the flatness of the landscape and the flatness of the mind-sets coming thick and fast. There is eventually a violently exciting rumble through a field of dead cornstalks when the woman-driver is forced off the road --- by a Massachusetts driver. Cute, I call it, but no real cigar.

[ PERSONAL NOTE: The play did bring back memories of icy and snow-sculpted roads around Decorah Iowa, with nothing higher'n a henhouse between us and the North Pole, four and five attempts to make an Impala claw its way to the top of a hill in Mud Season, and falling more than once down pure-glass black-tops into ditches it cost to be hauled out of. After five years of driving, when I came back to Boston I cut my license into a dozen slivers and dropped them into the Charles. I mean, no one in their right mind DRIVES in Boston, do they?]

"Eternal Bliss"

by Sandy Burns
Directed by Robert Runck
Stage Manager Sean Bennett

Miss Churchill...Catherine Bernard
Charles.............Rick Carpenter
Elvira..............Moira McCarthy
Ruth...................Lida McGirr

It is dangerous to satirize Noel Coward, but Sandy Burns makes an interesting try here. The situation is simple: "Charles Condemine" (Rick Carpenter) is newly dead, and waiting for him in paradise are his two wives (Moira McCarthy as Elvira and Lida McGirr as Ruth), demanding he choose which to spend eternity with. (It does help if you remember any good production of "Blythe Spirit" as this play unfolds.) It's impolite to say so, but Coward wins here, two falls out of three.

"The Thing About Ballast"

by Susan Leonard
Directed by Joe Antoun

Greg Chrysalides.........Peter Brown
Sylvia Chrysalides...Kathleen Rogers

Is there a subtext hidden in the name "Chrysalides"? None of the actors ever vocalized the name, but the idea of that step before full-winged butterfly may have been in Susan Leonard's mind as she wrote.

But the center of the action is "Billy" --- which Greg (Peter Brown) calls his belly, referring to it as that ballast that keeps him on an even keel. He is a recovering smoker ("Patches don't work!") hacking his way through an unsuccessful diet --- a gruffly offensive truck-driver into his 50's with half a dozen daughters to support and a vindictive dispatcher listening all too closely to the Sunday drivers he treats like so much road-scum.

His wife (Kathleen Rogers, who is a pretty good playwright but not as good an actress) is a New-Age flake with a literal wand --- a dowell with a gold star at one end and gilded fringes --- who does yoga positions while exhorting her husband to "float". As a resolution to the problem of ageing she magicks-away his "Billy" leaving him angina-free, smoking-cough free, and, well, horny. Not even Brown's acting nor Joe Antoun's directing made a lot of sense out of this peculiar play.

"Snakes and Ladders"

by Geralyn Horton
Directed by G.L. Horton
Stage Manager Mike Lewy

Pythia..............Lida McGirr
Voice of Elena...Geralyn Horton

When this play was fresh from the processor, Geralyn Horton insisted I read it an make some coherent comments. But, as any but the works of my old drinking buddy Wilm Shagsberd do, the text flat on the VDT made absolutely no sense whatever. However, with Lida McGirr in a tinkling belly-dancers gauzy costume fleshing out the protagonist-teacher, I finally saw what the playwright had in mind.

The dance teacher feels herself the modern embodiment of The Pythia --- those drug-induced voices of The delphic Oracle who were "one with The Goddess". She makes much at one point of her past life as a "mere entertainer" unhappy with her body's diminutive rotundities, from which unity with The Goddess has thankfully freed her.

Throughout her teaching monologue, however, the thoughts of one rebellious and sleepy student (Playwright G. L. Horton on an off-stage mike) keep intruding on both the sensual sound-track and the hopes of this advanced class to improvise a spontaneous dance of joy worthy of The Godd.... oh, you get the idea, huh?

The conflict here is between etherial aspirations and earthy practicalities, between fact and hope, between art and truth. There is less structure than understanding here, but the sure hands of both the playwright and her actress (She did her own directing) made this, for me, the runaway hit of the evening.

"Practicing Peace"

by Kelly DuMar
Directed by Norma McGrath
Stage Manager Lee Mendenhall

Kiki..........Gail Phaneuf
Keith.......H. Webb Tilney

How can one best practice peace? Kelly DuMar sets a scared post-9/11 wife stocking up on bottled water and duct-tape (Gail Phaneuf) against her transcendentally meditating (read selfishly unhelpful) husband (H. Webb Tilney). The wife is so worried she intends turning their potential nursery into "our Safe Room" with the window on a bird-feeder (and a marauding squirrel) hermetically sealed. He, on the other hand, prefers to commune with his navel in an approximated lotus position and to wage peace by making a baby.

The actors here are excellent and Director Norma McGrath has shaded their every confrontation, conflict, and resolution with honest believability. I do think, though, that the ideas at stake are much too large to be resolved so glibly nor positively. This is a neat play, but a small one.

So, my scorecard for the second three days' series had "Snakes and Ladders" leading the pack as Best Play. Whether it will survive the audience-poll, whether it will compete successfuly with "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" in the playwrights' poll for Best Play is still in doubt. But I intend to drop by tomorrow (28 June) to find out!
Join me?


The 31th Annual Summer Festival of New Plays (19 - 28 June)
Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide