Play by Play Blue Moons by Alan Gelb, Romulus Linney, Ellen Margolis, Fred Sahner, Steve Schmitt, Daniel Talbott and David Zellnik. Directed by John Sowle and Laura Margolis. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Dan Fenaughty and Jonathan Epstein; photo: Dan Udell
Tod Randolph; photo: Dan Udell
"Marriage is harder than teaching ducks to dance."
Seven new plays by seven authors highlight the fall season with a production at Stageworks Hudson in Hudson, New York. A superb cast of four players take on the challenges of multiple roles in a single evening, some as disparate as Mary Todd Lincoln and Ginny, an office worker in New York in free fall from a damaged building. Under the guiding hands of two expert directors this small gang of players evolves smoothly from one unique character to another in the space of time it takes to alter a set, usually less than a minute and a half. By the time you’re through with the evening’s entertainment you have discovered a wonderworld of characters and situations that will live with you for quite a while.
For instance Daniel Talbott’s curtain raiser, "Sometimes After Dinner" features a naked Jonathan Epstein on a bench chatting about mundane things casually with a freakishly weird girl who sometimes speaks in non-sequitors, played by Lauren Murphy. This is followed by Fred Sahner’s play "Final Moments" in which a not-so-grieving widow, played with wit and a lack of grace by Tod Randolph, antagonizes a young funeral director who is easily flustered, played by Dan Denaughty.
In "Mohammed and the Sleeping Cat" by David Zellnik Epstein and Fenaughty take on the roles of a gay couple coming to grips with their sleep-disordered relationship while Romulus Linney’s dialogue "Two Whores" pits Randolph’s Lincoln against Murphy’s Sarah Bernhardt who meet on deck as their ship sails into New York Harbor.
"What We Thought" by Ellen Margolis takes Randolph and Epstein on a wild ride of memory and experience as their bodies plummet off an upper floor of the World Trade Center. "Grizzly Lake Duet" allows Murphy and Fenaughty to assault one another in Steve Schmitt’s fascinating play about kids who call each other’s bluffs and the evening comes to an end after Alan Gelb’s play "Processional" which takes apart the family dynamic at a college graduation ceremony.
This group of new plays by writers both familiar and new is a diverse showcase for the talents of actors and directors alike. John Sowle has the Talbott, Zellnik and Margolis plays while the other four are directed by the company’s Artistic Director Laura Margolis. Sowle is at his best in the subtleties of the show’s opening number and it’s third piece about the gay couple. In both cases he handles delicate situations with an even hand and a keen eye for gestures. His actors deliver on the punches and maximize the impressions that can be made through little movement and eye changes, gestures and looks. In his second half opener, about the two people falling through space, he accommodates the playwrights intention with the aid of human marionettes, played in the oriental style. It is a fascinating play to watch, even as it enthralls the mind with its statements of indifference, interest, and love.
Margolis does some of her best work with "Two Whores." Here women of two different types and classes vie for most interesting person without ever giving up their trump cards. Here are two people who cannot be friends and yet, as they reveal more of themselves to one another Margolis has them connect physically in ways that are surprisingly intimate for women who have restraints and constraints imposed upon them. Her work on the final play of the evening provides much needed high comic relief with low comedy counterpoints. Her timing of movement and mime really make this play the joy it is as all four actors come together for the only time in the evening.
The malleable space into which the company puts all of this is designed by Phil Elman with perfect costumes created by Robert Anton who is to be commended for his period costumes as well as his contemporary ones. Dan Winters lighting design is perfect for each play and Ben Heyman does nice work with his sound plots.
To watch the work of new playwrights, and old faithfuls as well, is a delectable treat provided yearly by Stageworks Hudson. This year’s offerings are like chocolate to the soul: they have heat, heart and humanity served up with a creamy filling.
Play By Play Blue Moons plays through October 10 at Stageworks Hudson, located at 41-A Cross Street, Hudson, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-822-9667.