Simple Sundries takes a basic bird-meets-girl story and layers on the complexities of life in Austin right now
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., March 13, 2015
Simple. That's how Constance describes the sundries she sells in her new shop, and the word also suits the dream she's pursued: of moving to Austin and opening her own little boutique in a bungalow on the Eastside. Indeed, the show in which we meet Constance may be described with the term: Girl opens shop in house. Bird lives in house. When Girl isn't looking, Bird takes things. Girl can't find things, scratches head. The classic structure and style are those of a comedy routine from vaudeville or silent film, with the scenes in which the formula is set up and repeated brief, comic, and performed mostly without sound, save for the chipper chirp of the bird, a monk parakeet in puppet form, the legs on which it hop-hop-hops provided by two fingers on puppeteer Parker Dority's hand. See, even the puppetry here is simple. Everything in Simple Sundries is.
And yet ... the bungalow that Constance bought? We're shown how she gets it, how it's one of many such properties in East Austin on the market, their prices rocketing skyward in the blink of an eye, being snapped up by developers and bulldozed to make way for expensive new condos, how she has to fight for it and isn't above pulling a little con job when she comes up short monetarily. Constance is surfing Austin's real-estate boom to land in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town and cash in on its current popularity, but what about the people who lived there before the developers descended and the hipsters swarmed in? Where have they been forced to go? And that thieving parakeet? It's been displaced, too, and the things that it's taken from the shop have been added to its nest in an attempt to hold on to the home that it still has. And Constance? Though she seems sincere in her desire to sell merchandise that's homegrown and sustainable, when her shop isn't an instant success, she's pretty quick to add some sexy apparel to the mix. The longer we're in her Eastside boutique, the less simple anything appears.
Glass Half Full Theatre Artistic Director Caroline Reck and Dority, who co-wrote the script, have layered onto a simple comic conflict between woman and bird many of the complexities of life in Austin – specifically East Austin – right now: the buzz and the cost, the opportunities and the opportunism, them that's got and them that's not, the swift pace of change and the sudden loss of history and heritage it can bring. Theirs isn't a pointed exploration of what price progress; issues of economic segregation, gentrification, and commercialism aren't delved into very deeply. Simple Sundries is first and foremost a human comedy, drawing humor from our foibles and frailties, whether it's Constance's inconsistencies in her organic, artisanal granola lifestyle or the rants of a certain local public radio personality (voiced wickedly here by Chris Gibson). What keeps us engaged are the disarming charm of Gricelda Silva as sweet, comical Constance; the satisfying slyness of Dority as her avian housemate, Kismet; seeing the inevitable meeting of woman and bird, and their relationship develop. Still, the gentle satirical jabs at life in our town in this moment serve to keep us mindful of what's going on around us, to note when something has gone missing and to discover why, to be aware of what makes a home and be vigilant lest we lose one. Things that happen here and our feelings about them may be complicated, but our best response may be that simple.
Simple SundriesSalvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd.
Through March 14
Running time: 50 min.