Play by Play Unchained, seven one-act plays by Kieron Barry, James McLindon, Ken Urban, Hal Corley, Cathy Tempelsman, Jeff Carter and Lucile Lichtblau. Directed by Laura Margolis and Jeff Mousseau.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"In all our quest of greatness, like wanton boys, whose pastime is their care,
we follow after bubbles, blown in the air."
John Webster, a character in Cathy Tempelsman’s one-act play "As You Loathe It," quotes himself as above toward the end of this play which opens the second half of the program of new one-act play being produced by Stageworks Hudson to officially open their summer season. The play takes a humorous look at the still active rivalry among Webster, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Written in Elizabethan rhyme these three men, all occupants of the poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey in London, jibe and complain, battle and demur as they view their prospects for success in our modern times. When I read about this play I thought, "Oh, no, not that again, please," but I was proven wrong in my preliminary view of the work. Like the rest of the plays on this roster Tempelsman’s effete comedy is a classic and a treasure.
After the serious disclosures of the play that closes the first half, Hal Corley’s "Deflating," it feels good to open with an intellectual comedy, a play really written to amuse the inveterate theater-goer who will get the inside jokes when Kit and Will cite the names of the talents who currently and recently have updated, obscured and rewritten their best works for modern audiences. "Deflating: deals with the aftermath of two startling incidents, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the jailing of a babysitter accused of sharing pot with a minor. The same actress plays John Webster and the baby-sitter named Vivian, a delightful and versatile woman named Kathryn Danielle.
Danielle, like her cohorts in the shows, is amazingly varied in her characterizations, appearing in four of the seven plays in roles that include a spinster whose ex-boyfriend allows his wife to humiliate her in her own church on Christmas eve and a Jewish mother whose disregard for her son’s feelings is seemingly her highest calling. While Webster might be thought of as her longest stretch, it is really the difference between the church monologues and the mother’s inhumane treatment of everyone else that really bring out the long-distance best in this fine actress.
Equally stretched is Cliff Miller who plays a sensitive, gay high school student in Ken Urban’s fine study of differences, "Edgar & Patrick," a remorse-stricken young man seeking redemption for his childhood errors in "Deflating," Marlowe in the aforementioned authors squabble, Del, a young soldier in Jeff Carter’s "Two Summer Evenings," and Zack, a recent PhD in Philosophy in Lucile Lichtblau’s fine comedy "The Introduction" which closes the show. Miller alters his voice, stance, walk, height, and the shape of his face within the quick changes between plays. Once I actually had to check the program to be sure another actor had not been brought in without prior notice. His range in roles that actually are fraught with similarities is extraordinary and it is that talent that makes the roles ultimately so different.
Suzy Kimball, injured during the first week of the run, is only being seen in three of her original five roles with the understudy, Maggie Delgadillo taking her place in other two. While these two women could not be more different in look, style and voice they each bring wonderful qualities to their roles. Kimball is the awkward centerpiece of the first play, "The Comfort of Your Own Home," by Kieron Barry. The play is an ambiguous combination of three monologues which don’t seem to be related, and yet for the sake of the play they must be, somehow. Like Danielle, she plays a misfit in her own life in this play and the edginess of her delivery certainly gives that misfit application space on stage. She returns as the narrative voice in the gay play by Urban and once again in the second half as Jan, the high school sweetheart of Miller’s Del. Here she shines through the material with clarity and sensitivity looking as beautiful as the young Natalie Wood.
Buzz Roddy makes up the fourth corner of the company playing a wide variety of classically odd roles. He is the Angel Gabriel in James McLindon’s play "Perspective" caught in a gilt frame on the wall of the Mona Lisa gallery in the Louvre. He is a high school teacher in the opening play who cannot separate a student’s tears from her laughter. He plays Edgar in the Urban play, a high school jock who is offended by Patrick’s gay behavior, is offended by his innuendo and at the same time indignant about his own sexuality. He plays Shakespeare–enough said. Finally he takes on the skittish father, Marvin, in the final ensemble piece. Each of his characters is quirky, unexpectedly charming in different ways and ultimately a pleasant new friend to take home.
Maggie Delgadillo, the last minute replacement for Kimball in two plays, makes herself a most welcome member of the company as plays Virgin Mary in a painting and Jessica, the fiancé of Zach in the last play. Her sense of the zany comes forward step by step (or play by play) in this role, turning her meek and sweet daughter of Evangelism into a budding Jewish American Princess under the insistent guidance of Zach’s maniacal mother. Once again the American classic cliche rears its insistent head and the understudy goes on to become a star. That’s not an easy accomplishment in a company that is this good.
My least favorite play was the first one by Kieron Barry and my actual favorite is of no importance for each audience member will and should decide which one is the best. As directed by the very talented Jeff Mousseau and Laura Margolis the seven plays presented this year are going to be discussed and argued for a long time to come.
William J. Domack has provided simply perfect sets and his lighting is most effective especially when the combination come together in the perfectly placed projections that connect the scenic elements to the play. George Veale has provided the right costumes for the characters and that could not always have been with a set of simple choices. Phil Elman has provided musical cues that perfectly assist the transitions from one play to another.
Unchained is the over-riding concept for this evening of new plays and unchained is how the production has brought them to life. No restrictions is the theme and what you get is what you should get in this season’s spectacular group of must-see, don’t miss theatrical gems.
Buzz Roddy and Cliff Miller in "Edgar & Patrick"; photo: Rob Shannon
Miller and Kathryn Danielle in "Deflating"; photo: Rob Shannon
Suzy Kimball and Miller in "Two Summer Evenings"; photo: Rob Shannon
Play by Play Unchained plays at Stageworks Hudson, located at 41-A Cross Street in Hudson, New York through June 23. For schedules, information and tickets call the box office at 518-822-9667 or go on line to www.stageworkshudson.org.