What would a brain say if it could speak? This is what the Vital Theatre Company addressed in its evening of short plays, This Is Your Brain On.... Consisting of nine short plays, each written and directed by different authors and directors, ... Brain... thoroughly answered this question.
Headlining the show was The Idiot's Guide to the Brain, written and performed by Jane Shepard, directed by Frank Pisco. Shepard's play is more of a standup comedy routine, directed straight at the audience, where Shepard outlines the differences between people who are right-brain dominant (like herself) and those who are left-brain dominant (like her father). Aside from being funny, it's also rather informative, making for a quick refresher course in biology and psychology 101. It was also a good vehicle for the zany and charming Shepard.
The following pieces were shorter, and more traditionally play-like (no standup-esque hijinks). As individual pieces, all the plays held their own, but as the program progressed the similarities between them were impossible to miss, with nearly half of the pieces being train-of-thought monologs. In Crossing Town, by Andrea Lepcio (directed by Linda Ames Key), the audience hears the inner monolog of a woman (Jacqueline Mazaella) 's hectic commute to work, while Two PM, by Robin Rothstein (dir. Karen Sommers), features the inner monolog of a procrastinator (Vanessa Shealy) on her day off. The trains of thought continued right on schedule with One Is the Road by Mark Loewenstern (dir. Julie Hamberg), in which Rob Sheridan lists the seven things his brain can hold at once. Bang! Bang! Bang!, by Lorna Littleway (dir. Sue Lawless), takes the audience inside the head of a dying man who has been wrongfully shot by the police.
Most of the other plays dealt with right brain vs. left brain themes, and again the similarities could be glaring, such as Election Day, by Suzanne Bradbeer (dir. Margot Massie), and Take This Job and Shove It, by Mike Teele (dir. Julie Hamberg). In Election Day the brain (Tom Johnson) is up for reelection and might be usurped by the Spleen, while Take this job... is about the VP of Rational Thought's resigning due to conflicts with the pleasure center. Despite the repetition, Take This Job and Shove It was hysterical and cleverly conceived, with the VP of Rational Thought excellently played by Rob Sheridan. Left vs. right is also present in Halves, by J. Holtham (dir. Daniel Jaquez), which strongly resembles the other L vs. R plays. Catherine Gillet's After Brain (dir. Aimee Hayes) offers a different take on rivaling thought processes.
All of these pieces were well-acted and -directed, with the various directors each trying to distinguish their own project (Sommers used a recorded voiceover track, and Jaquez employed an 8-foot-wide pair of eyeglasses as a set piece), but the repetitive nature of the themes (made worse by the use of actors in multiple roles) was still the evening's weakness.
Even though lack of variety worked against the overall show, each project shone in its own light, with the headlining Idiot's Guide To The Brain making an excellent centerpiece.
(Also featuring Christopher Burris.)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby