Mixed messages

Greater New York

(4 evenings of original one-acts; 2 evenings reviewed here)
J.E.T. Productions
Chelsea Arts Center
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Prolonged exposure to Off-Off-Broadway diminishes the expectation from evenings of one-acts. Sometimes they are taut, professional affairs; sometimes they are "scene night" at an acting school or membership company.

Greater New York garnered a mixed verdict, but with some moments that, while not tautly professional, showed energy and imagination and encouraged a belief in the future of theatre and of playwriting.

Wonder Is a Wonder Is a Wonder, by Lynne Elson, has Gertrude Stein (Donna Stearns) and Alice B. Toklas (Melissa Logan) getting ready for a dinner party. The preparations, which include Alice's attempted smothering of a pigeon for a French recipe, are interrupted by Wonder Woman (Iris Alten). (Yes, the WW of the cartoons, which date from that period.) Gertrude, who is cranky because Alice has been hiding her booze and none of the celebrities she invited (Hemingway, Picasso, et al.) seem to be coming, teaches WW how to play word games, thereby liberating her from the tyranny of thought balloons - er, yes, those pesky editorial additions, provided in this case by Guy West as "Woman of Wonder Writer's voice."

This material provided a pleasant and whimsical diversion that bodes well for playwright Elson and for the energetic cast and director (Jason Shilling Kendall). It is not easy to carry off this sort of thing under the best of conditions; this cast threw themselves into their characters like Samurai going into battle. (Some production touches, like blotchy age makeup, which rarely works this close up, were regrettable but didn't hurt the play's overall effect too much.)

Joe Godfrey's Take Two puts an ex-couple (Lawrence Winslow and Gail Salazar) into a job as actors for a quickie radio commercial. All the pique stemming from their recent separation comes out between and during takes.

The play suffers from stagy dialog and a drastic U-turn in the "surprise" ending; the production suffered from superficial acting and directing (Joyce Storey). It's dangerous having one actor call the other an unspontaneous, squeaky Barbie doll, unless the recipient of the epithet is above reproach. (Also featuring Marcial Garlitos and Jason Kendall in knowing cameos as the harried producer and his technical assistant.) Godfrey knows his territory and has explored it in better plays.

Louis Tesauro's That Game We Play shows the last half-hour in the love affair of an older woman (J.E.T.'s mainspring, Judith E. Taranto) and a young stud (Kent Patrick Hatch). She is telling him to get lost; he responds by strangling her. The final moment suggests that this has happened before and will no doubt happen again.

Taranto and Hatch were perfectly cast and took the play by its emotional horns, although they had to wallow in a miasma of lovers' cliches to get there. (A stage-combat expert could have helped the production.)

It is a measure of the seriousness that some bring to OOB that for Lisa Stephenson's Bedside Manners, a sort-of Talking With set in a New England bed-and-breakfast, only 10 of a cast of 12 showed up. One of the staff said the no-shows had "other things to do." No announcement from the stage said which actresses were no longer with the company. Half the sold-out house left at intermission.

With all due sympathy to the producer, that this play went on at all bodes very ill for Off-Off-Broadway, as other producers find a new way to sell tickets and deal with dropouts.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1
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Copyright 1998 John Chatterton