Using the word "Fumble" in your title could be an open invitation to disaster if the material and subsequent production are not up to snuff. While Luigia M. Miller's Fumbleweeds didn't qualify as a completely distressing failure, it did fumble more often that it should have.
Miller, who wrote and directed the evening of five one-acts, cannot be faulted for a lack of passion about her work. But her ideas are generic at best, embarrassingly inappropriate at worst. The best piece, Hamburger, is a touching treatise on the very real problem of the dwindling middle class in New York City. In a beautiful performance, Linda Howes, an elderly woman who has been displaced from her home by the construction of a luxury high-rise, rants and raves to (and makes friends with) one of the construction workers (played with gusto by the stalwart Michael Grenham) during a lunch break. Miller's points are well taken, but she brings no startlingly new view to the problem, and there was nothing about the piece that hasn't been featured in countless socially conscious T.V. movies over the last 30 years.
At its worst, Fumbleweeds tried to take a surreally satiric look at George W. Bush, (twice) ignoring the fact that the reality is more surreal (and satiric) than anything else possibly could be. The first attempt, A Christmas Carol, portrayed Dubyah (a strident turn from Tod Alan Lash) having a nightmare involving characters from the Dickens holiday classic, along with Martin Luther King Jr. (Kirt Harding, in the first of five forcefully declaimed performances), and seeking solace from daddy George Sr. (a miscast Grenham) and mother Barbara (a decent performance from Howes). The second attempt, Body Politic, teamed the strident Lash with the even more strident Christine Kelly Karel as Dubyah turns up on Saturn and embarks on an affair with the queen of the ringed planet. This piece, the last of the rather long evening, dissolved into a pointlessly juvenile sex scene between Lash and Karel, while Harding (as Karel's Prime Minister) declaimed at a pitch that only dogs could hear.
The other two pieces, When She Remembers and Hotdog, featured good performances from Grenham and little else; when joined by the sterling Andrea Weston in the particularly flavorless Hotdog, it became quite apparent the contributions good actors can bring to less-than-stellar material.
The whole production looked as if it had been produced on a more than usually frayed shoestring, with ratty furniture cluttering the extremely small stage, dreadfully dark lighting and a closetful of the actors' clothes substituting for costumes (although Karel's leather-queen outfit was, if not alluring, at least outlandish). The sound effects veered between subtly soft and painfully loud, often without warning.
Miller has a definite passion, even rage, fueling her writing. Her points of view are unambiguous. What she has not given the pieces that comprise Fumbleweeds is the unique personality that would give her work a theatricality of its own.
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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita