Directors' Festival 1997: One-act Wonders

The Acting Studio,
through May 24
Running Time: 2 hrs

One of the wonders of theatre is the one-act. A small sample of a playwright's work, a one-act generally explores a single idea efficiently, with little wasted language or tangential thought. It is the essence of the way the writer uses language.

It can also be the piece of a playwright's work that breaks a director. On the surface, a one-act looks so simple. While there are exceptions, in general the play is short, doesn't have that many characters or settings, and rarely requires elaborate costume changes or expensive equipment. But the language is like a reduced sauce; all the excess water has been boiled off, and what remains is a potent elixir of purpose that a director can serve with either grace or indifference.

Which is why this one-act directors' festival, hosted by Different Stages, is such a wonderful proving ground for new talent. Each director is given the opportunity to craft a classic one-act and show how much they know about script interpretation. And this crop of directors is certainly adept.

The evening begins with Here We Are, a play by the witty and vicious Dorothy Parker about a young couple on the way to their honeymoon. Director Shoshana Gold puts actors Amalia Stifter and Paul Schwendimann through Parker's clipped lines with panache. Gold seems to have cut to the heart of Parker's words and the actors masterfully capture the breathless anticipation and outright fear of these newlyweds.

Alan Ayckbourn's Drinking Companion, directed by Lowell Bartholomee, tells the story of an English traveling salesman whose clichéd wife "just doesn't understand him." The salesman, magnetically portrayed by Skip Bandy, is in a country town looking for a woman whose ear - among other things - he can bend. Jeanne Goodnow's endearing Paula and Amy L. Gamber's staunch Berniece find themselves trapped by this earnest salesman. While most of the play's action forces the actors to sit behind a table, Ayckbourn's intentions are still well-served by Bartholomee and company.

The last one-act of the evening takes us to a loft apartment of ill repute. Noon, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Kevin Remington, proves that there are all kinds of sexual kinks in the Big City and that one man's trash can very well be another man's treasure. Remington creates a frantic atmosphere on the stage, a mood that McNally's script shrieks for. The actors prove their trust in Remington's direction as well by dropping their inhibitions as well as their clothes.

All in all, this festival simply proves that more talent has been unleashed upon this city, and it is full of directors who know how to serve this most potent of forms. - Adrienne Martini


State Theatre,
through June 1
Running time: 1 hr, 45 min

Daryl Boiling, Catherine Uldrich, and Michael Miller in Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Some nights the cosmos yields its mysteries to you. The secrets of infinity, of our planet's place among the stars, of humanity's progress through the ages and its ultimate purpose - all reveal themselves and you're privy to the most astonishing insights into reality and time and history. If you know whereof I speak, then you likely also know that such revelatory evenings typically follow the ingestion of some substance the purpose of which is to knock-knock on those ol' doors of perception.

I can't say what condition Steve Martin was in when he penned Picasso at the Lapin Agile, but the work has in it something of the feel of an altered state. It's a play that, while humorous, mulls some mighty big questions: What makes a genius? From whence comes inspiration? How do the natures of men and women differ? Why has this century been the amazing time it has? And its characters - which include a youthful Picasso, a young Albert Einstein, and a half-dozen chatty Parisians - discuss them in the woolgathering way of the slightly high, breezily expatiating on whatever topic is at hand from broadly general or philosophic points of view. Moreover, their talks rarely build or coalesce into a larger, unifying debate; they remain apart, metaphysical eddies spinning on their own. It's like Martin got so distracted by each new insight into the universe that he forgot he was supposed to tie them all into a play.

For a work with its head so far in the stars, this Live Oak Theatre at the State production pretty much keeps to the ground. It takes place in a conservative box of a cafe; the set by Susan Whitehead - her first - is dominated by right angles and tall gray walls, with only a couple of posters by way of decoration. Buffy Manners outfits most of the cast in salt-of-the-earth duds, the color scheme hewing chiefly to sober browns and blacks. And both Don Toner's lighting and direction eschew the extravagant for the straightforward. The actors have more leeway to be, shall we say, wild and crazy, but except in two cases - Barry Miller, as the vocal self-promoter Schwendiman, and Daniel Potts as the enormously effusive art dealer Sagot - these performers opt for more sedate, homey characterizations. Steve Shearer's cafe keeper is a lovable lug, a little fuzzy in places but sweet when it counts, as his better half, tartly assayed by Melanie Reneé Dean, says. And among their patrons, Michael Miller's Einstein is endearingly foggy, as if lost in a cloud of mathematical equations, and Catherine Uldrich's Suzanne is a bundle of verve. They're an affable bunch - the kind of folks you'd like to meet in a strange bar - but they don't quite light a fire under Martin's hazy musings. So, while the time spent in their company passes pleasantly, you're likely to wake up the next morning feeling much as you do after those nights of cosmic revelation, unable to recall just what it was all about. - Robert Faires


Planet Theatre,
through May 24
Running Time: Well, about 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how you calculate it

photograph by Farley Bookout

Sukkah (Shelter) is not a dance, it is an experience.

Sound, movement, cheap theatrics, and mountain climbing equipment are used by a core of dancers and technicians to tell a loose story about a journey to find completeness. While this extravaganza, which utilizes the Planet Theatre in new and interesting ways, is based in movement, it also marries other forms in a way that can only be described as unique. Quantifying the evening's diversions is difficult, kind of like trying to use words to describe a color or an emotion to someone who has experienced neither.

Michael Northam, the sound artist, lives up to his title as he blends painful feedback, text loops, and CD samples to create a wall of sound for the performers to climb. Luke Savisky's films and Farley Bookout's slides add texture and commentary to the action created within the black box of the theatre. But, as if that weren't enough stimulation for even the most attention-challenged audience member, choreographer Bryan Green has added intriguing dances that take place in and among the building's environs, as well as on the stage. And, thanks to some clever rigging, Green and company literally swing from the rafters while they experience gravity in a new way.

Okay, so this brief description does not paint the most complete picture of what actually occurs during Sukkah. The best that words can do is provide an outline for this visceral and fascinating production that manages to engage all of your senses at once while managing not to take itself too seriously. However, this creation still contains some flaws; its structure does not yet seamlessly flow and, at times, moves in odd fits and starts.

Still, this is a compelling, site-specific piece that, above all else, is visually and aurally clear and precise despite the fact that our language may not have the words to fully define this multi-faceted event. - Adrienne Martini

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