Prodigal Cow and nine other plays, by Mark Harvey Levine. Directed by Kevin Paul Wixsom. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Ruth Laragione, Mae Rogers, Jackie DiGiorgis; rehearsal photo: Bev Krol
"Sarcasm. That was sarcasm."
Diedre Bollinger with director Kevin Paul Wixsom; rehearsal photo: Bev Krol
In ten short plays under the group name "Prodigal Cow" author Mark Harvey Levine takes on the wide world of relationships, including passion, compassion, religious fervor and the limits of friendship, with an edge toward the comic, and occasionally sarcastic, viewpoint. In a production from The Town Players of Pittsfield - in their 97th season - the plays are definitely given their due and the two hour evening is one of many delights, a few surprises and the occasional revelation - in the Biblical sense.
Levine has had over 1500 productions of his quirky plays worldwide from New York to Jakarta. They range in subject matter from people in the bathroom getting ready for their day to a man in taxicab without knowledge of his destination. The title piece from the local production is a dialogue between an accomodating Kid (small goat) and a volumesque cow who likes cheese on crackers. In a curious, and delcious, turn of events it becomes clear that this friendship between species is based on creating the "fatted calf" for the celebration of the return of the prodigal. With Kathleen Wallace as the Calf and Ruth Laragione as the Kid the play is in excellent hooves. They are in alternating moments, funny, moving, sad, and funny once again.
Diedre Bollinger is the strongest actress in the company and has three of the most difficult pieces in which to perform. In the first play she is a woman desperate to break off a relationship with a man whose claims to be a psychic are altogether too disturbing. In the second play she is a man's best friend who agrees, with suspicions, to rate his kisses before his date with another woman. In the final play of the group she is a wife whose husband has become irrational and whose suicide seems imminent. The three women Bollinger portrays are radically different and unique and her portrayals mirror the characters to perfection. This is a perfect pairing of actress and roles. In all three plays she is paired with Douglas MacDonald who provides her with excellent opposition. They are a fine couple on the small stage at Berkshire Community College's K-111. In that first play they are joined by Jackie DiGiorgis who provides as much comedy as she does reality.
DiGiorgis, in fact, is a delight in these plays. Her first scene waitress with probable psychic powers is wonderful. Her nunlike roomate of Christ is hilarious in the fifth play "Smitten." She absolutely glows as Praying Mantis in "In the Jar" in which a collection of insects attempt to make their escape back into the world after being captured by a small boy.
Among the other actors in the grou, Scott Luscier makes a major impression in the third play as a rental boy-friend who can only do just the right things. He is joined by a silly Tess McHugh in this slightly rough-hewn comedy. She plays off him like a pro.
Devin Trager, as a cricket, is excellent. Chris Montemagni as a lonely night-driver at a fast food drive-thru does a nice job with some fascinating pyschological material. Sara Clement plays the woman with the food who only wants to do what she is supposed to to do, and that definitely includes a lack of conversation and socializing.
The weak play is number eight in the group "Misfortune" in which a couple in a chinese restaurant are faced with the peculiarities in messages in a fortune cookies which seem to predict the evening turning into a Stephen King-like horror story. Luscier is the besieged man, Kathleen Wallace is the very funny waitress and Colleen Surprise Jones is the woman with the knife. What keeps this very weird play from working is Jones who had a tendency to swallow words and speak in a very quiet voice that didn't get much past the second row of the theater. With Levine's plays, every word counts in a piece where each variation makes more points. "Sing out, Colleen."
Mae Rogers costumes work nicely for each of these characters as do John Fletcher's lights, although quicker blackouts would certainly help. Rob Dumais' sound design keeps the show in a world caught between Walt Disney cartoon features and the real world, a nice place for these plays to live.
It is Kevin Paul Wixsom's direction that holds the evening together. He has been clever and careful and he never lets his actors find those comic extremes that sometimes destroy the comic effect needed to make a moment work. His actors have responded to his input, apparently, and the result is a simply delightful experience. Not a laugh-riot, and it shouldn't be that anyway, it is a comedy-filled evening about people (and the occasional animal) you might know and recognize. Wixsom, Levine and a talented company have given The Town Players a night to remember.
Prodigal Cow and nine other plays, plays through April 22 at Berkshire Community College, 1350 West Street, Pittsfield, MA. For information and tickets go to www.townplayers.org or call 443-9279.