Mind the generation gap

Thick Like Piano Legs

By Robert Attenweiler
Directed by Robert Attenweiler

Cowboy Mouth

By Sam Shepard
Directed by John Patrick Hayden
Disgraced Productions
The Red Room
Non-union productions (closed)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

A new theatre group in their second production, Disgraced Productions, should feel far from disgraced at their mounting of an original play, Thick Like a Piano, written and directed by Robert Attenweiler and paired with an old play, Cowboy Mouth, by Sam Shepard. Shepard’s script need not be reviewed here as it has been analyzed countless times by others, but for the sake of tradition it should be mentioned that the play is one of Shepard's early one-acts from 1971, that it is autobiographical, and that Shepard played the lead role himself for two performances before disappearing without a word into New England. And so we have it, that fantastical play about not seeing one’s potential fully blossom in combination with the real triumph of the evening, Attenweiler’s very good original play with a similar theme. The new play and the old blended beautifully together and one might believe that Thick Like A Piano was written by Shepard as well -- though it is actually more concise and does not contain anything so confoundedly baffling as the giant lobster man who delivers food and later becomes a metaphor in the form of a rock star.

Shepard’s play is not completely clear, though its message about a younger generation making gods to worship out of pop-culture icons can’t be missed. On the other hand, Attenweiler’s play is rather clear. A problem is established at the top of the play that propels the rest of the story, the characters are clearly defined, and we get the satisfaction of understanding the question of a missing piano, so integral to the play. This is a fine character play that was given a credible production, and future work by Attenweiler will be much anticipated.

The performances in Thick Like Piano Legs ranged from mediocre to demonstrating great range, a showcase of admirable talent. Especially good, though seemingly too young, was Nathan Williams as Tom. He was equaled by Vina Less as his soured girlfriend, who demonstrated incredible intensity. Cowboy Mouth’s Becky Benhayon and Adam Groves as Cavale and Slim, respectively, made Shepard's outlandish play believable. Groves, especially, lived up to his character’s violent energy, though Benhayon did not always allow this energy to feed her performance.

Considering the small space with many limitations, a simple but effective set was designed by both Bret Haines and John Patrick Hayden. The lighting, by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, enhanced mood and magic of the pieces, while an electric guitar helped the transition between the two plays. Overall, this evening of theatre showed daring and was an enticing introduction to a new theatre group. It will be interesting to see what this group comes up with next.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2006 Michael D. Jackson