Stalking the Nightmare

By Harlan Ellison
Directed by Robert Armin
La Vie/Centerfold Productions
West End Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

Given the program news that the author has won more writing awards than any other "fantasist" (a.k.a. science fiction writer), the evening was a disappointment. There was little science and even less drama in this series of eight blackout sketches, none of which ended with an agreeable twist.

The title of the first play ("The Cheese Stands Alone") contained practically the entire literary value of the piece-at least for those who can deconstruct "The Farmer in the Dell." Ronald Venable played the first of a variety of characters (all of them similar) who meets up with the proprietress (Femi Emiola) of a woo-woo bookstore selling volumes, each of which has a single page that can stop a person's life cold. Ms. Emiola did pretty well with later characters, but her attempt to play Bela Lugosi in this one was just too broad. As for Mr. Venable's character: what can you say about a man who says "caca"and "Tampax"to a woman he never met before? (Find the answer on page 47.)

Things picked up a lot whenever David Sitler, an actor with considerable power, appeared on stage to strut his stuff. He created an impressive variety with his several appearances, almost to the point of being unrecognizable in one. In the second play, Mr. Sitler's character seemed to have been cursed by the Kama Sutra, killing every woman he ever laid ... eyes on. Mr. Venable, the recipient of the lengthy monologue-so preposterous it was amusing-was given mainly Michael J. Fox eye-rolls to do-which he did at least as well as Mr. Fox.

"Shatterday"set up an intriguing, though wildly improbable, premise: a man calls his own telephone number by mistake and reaches a Jungian Döppleganger. Although Mr. Sitler did a wonderful job disintegrating under the pressure of the bizarre, it took the author five scenes to complete what could have been done in two.

"Paladin of the Lost Hour" was the most ambitious and emotionally charged of the plays. The director took his gloves off to stage a convincing fight as well as a moving tribute to the heroes of Viet Nam. One should have wept when the vet, lovingly played by Johnny Kitt , saluted his dead comrade. But although both Mr. Kitt as the soldier and David Vogel as an elderly angel were fine, there were too many monologues passing like ships in the night, and too little conflict on the stage for tears.

Finally, "Flop Sweat"(an irresistible title for a reviewer) played like a talk show trying to be a Plato dialogue.

Walter Ulasinski's elaborate scenic design on wheels worked pretty well. But Kristine Nevins (with minor parts in two of the plays) pasted rows of fake book bindings on the set that created a remarkable effect. Tim Golebiewski focused some nicely mottled lighting effects. And Breck Sullivan-Carpenter's costumes usually made their point.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1998 Marshall Yaeger