School Belles, a multi-character solo piece by Mauryne Horan, proved to be an earnest-intended yet ultimately unsuccessful work.
The play features the author as "Mary Beth Behan." On the eve of her 20-year high-school reunion, she is rooting through the basement of the home where she grew up in search of talismans of her youth and times gone by. Each triggers a flashback to either graduation day 1975, or her ten-year reunion in '85. The device is a good method by which to view the progression (or regression) of each of the individuals with whom she went to school and promised to keep in touch.
Unfortunately, though, Horan's writing is seldom sharp enough in its observations or original enough in its basic concepts to really hold an audience's attention or to merit exceptional praise. Too many turns of fate meant to be ironic were rather predictable, and too many jokes meant to sting or soothe simply fall flat. Horan's script often fails to make the characters seem more than shallow types.
She and director Amy Weinstein seem to have followed some "how to" manual on putting together an autobiographical one-woman show and stuck to it slavishly. Nothing "breathes" enough here. The character types, while certainly familiar to anyone who's ever attended an American high school, seem just that: set types such as the Shy One, the Toughie, the Rich Kid ("One foot on Astoria Boulevard and one foot on Park Avenue"), and the Self-Important Artist who always wears shades.
Horan's technique needs honing as well. Her renditions of each woman didn't have enough defining detail beyond the most basic traits. Consequently, several seemed rather similar, and it became confusing to determine who was who after a time. On a technical level, the production was well realized and served by the set and lighting design of Richard Schaefer. The basement had the apposite feel of a personal archive, and each vignette had its mood enhanced by the manner in which Schaefer composed its lighting and color scheme. Also well-executed was the sound tape designed by Horan and Weinstein, a mix of contemporary songs and oldies -- each wisely selected as an aural frame to the scene it served.
School Belles was far from a bad production. It just needed a whole lot more in too many categories.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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