Play By Play Shadows:Festival of New One-Acts. Directed by John Sowle and Laura Margolis.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...plundering your dreams..."
Eight new plays by eight playwrights make up a wonderful evening of theater at Stageworks Hudsonís season opener. Four actors playing multiple roles in various styles with a broad spectrum of accents aided by two directors and four designers make the collection of new plays come alive. Oftentimes with collections of this sort there will be a dud or two but this year in Hudson, New York, there isnít one play in this collection that I wouldnít look forward to seeing a second time.
The actors: Timothy W. Hull portrays madness in a variety of ways with equal skill and panache. Louise Pillai brings maturity to bear on the human condition of old women, young girls, jackals and the child in mourning for losses to come. Bavani Selvarajah plays Scots servant girls, Egyptian intellects, college students, and Americanís with ambivalent attitudes equally successfully. Donald Warfield seems capable of making any sort of role work from rebellious colonist to gay predator to Arab dissident to angry New England father.
In short, the directors for this production of new plays have assembled an extremely talented and versatile company of players, including understudy Catherine Seeley whose one-line role was a standout laugh-getter.
The plays and their directors: John Sowle directed Jesse Waldingerís play "The Loyalist" set in North Carolina in 1755. The accents are heavily Scottish and the tale is heavily seditious. As the opening act it serves its purpose well, forcing an audience to pay close attention and to listen intently for the Scots accents are heavy and not quite consistent. The play has surprises as pasts and presents collide for the two principal characters. Sowle uses his interesting set, designed by Sowle, as more than merely a backdrop. Holding time and place in evidence it also serves as that elusive wall that retains all that is played out in front of it. No fire rages in the fireplace, though it has been laid. No bread bakes, though the dough has been visibly prepared. Instead there is the personal and political drama at hand and, in many ways, this play does a perfect job in setting up the underlying themes for the eveningís entertainment.
Sowle follows this with a mono-drama, "Violence in the Air" by Zack Calhoun, in which Hull plays a man frantically ranting in improvisational poetry about the conditions of his life while staggering helplessly around a deserted subway platform in contemporary New York City. The eco-politico realm is at work here in a piece that feels awkward at first but then reveals its hidden secret in a way that both staggers the actor and our imagination at the same time.
Margolis enters the program with the third piece, "Okoboji" by Suzanne Bradbeer. Here is a bucolic setting for a melodrama of emotional crises. Two people arrive at this lake setting talking about the death of a loved one and by the time this short piece ends they have arrived at a destination neither has anticipated. The tone here is so different from the two plays that have preceded it that it is Margolisí careful direction that allows us to enter this charmed world where the color of a blue lake becomes as rigidly controlling as the agonies of the man on the subway platform that we have just witnessed.
The first half of the show ends with Zach Udkoís intellectual romantic comedy "The Claw of the Schwa." This odd little play explores the erotic languor held in the hands of a teacher of speech and phonetics as one of her students becomes enraptured by the sounds of the universals in the English language. When passion rears up and reality intrudes on the schoolroom all of that romance is threatened, but realizing quickly what such a switch can do, the romance is re-ignited and laughter and erotica blend into a delicious conclusion.
The second half of the show opens with a play that takes romance and its conclusions to a different level, although the English language is still at the base of "The Review" by Yusef El-Guindi. A technical delight, this two character play could be called "The Short Story Authorís Nightmare;" it would still take your breath away as it does for Hullís character more than once.
"Cloud" by Al Sjoerdsma is a mythical look at one manís personal dilemma as the dream of a difficult day becomes more and more difficult to cope with until revelations about the situation take things to a new and even more perplexing level. Both of these plays have been superbly directed by Margolis who shows in this combination a unique sensitivity to the pain of relationships that wonít make sense to the participants. She carefully shows us how much work goes into maintaining the unobtainable.
Sowle makes his solo directing appearance in the second half with David Zellnickís play, "The Jackals," the hardest of the group to make acceptable. One young American woman on tour in the Arabian dessert, escorted by a Besarabian guide, is confronted by the oldest female jackal and must make decisions based on emotions rather than education or common sense. Old prejudices rule the day on many sides here and while the mythical and mystical aspects of the play are well handled it is still difficult to accept the impossible as plausible even in the face of the inimitable.
Margolis has the final play in the set: "Carol" by Ron Riekki. Here she returns to earlier themes from the plays that have preceded this one. A man, alone at night driving a dark road through bad weather, relives many of the relationships he has had or tried to have only to come to the realization that he may not have understood any of the women in his life. His desire for all becomes the need for one, someone to get him through the long night ahead. Comic and tragic all at once, this play is a wonderfully wrought piece of short fiction with an edge of reality that just about anyone can identify with without blinking. The entire company is involved in this final piece and the crudely comic comings and goings are just what the audience needs after the play that comes before this.
This yearís Play by Play may well be the finest collection this company has produced. Certainly this can be said for the presentation: there is something for every taste and everything works for those who just like good theater.
Bavani Selvarajah and Timothy W. Hull; photo: Rob Shannon
Louise Pillai and Donald Warfield; photo: Rob Shannon
The Company; Photo: Rob Shannon
Play By Play Shadows plays at Stageworks Hudson, at 41-A Cross Street, Hudson, NY through July 10. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-822-9667.