Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Playing Around the Sound: Quick WrapUps of Satori Group, ArtsWest, STAGEright, and SecondStory Rep

"Returning to Albert Joseph"
Here are short impressions from attending a diverse selections of currently running plays in the area.

Until May 25, Satori Group is performing Returning to Albert Joseph which is scripted by Spike Friedman, a company member, but worked on by the collective. Friedman, in a press packet, says tentatively, that the play is about "loss." But he's afraid that by labeling it, it will make people feel like they won't want to see it. That seems strange for a company member of a group that believes so thoroughly in theatrical expression.

Directed by Caitlin Sullivan and Alex Matthews with a cast of two, LoraBeth Barr and Quinn Franzen, the play could indeed be said to be about loss. It's a very word-focused presentation about a dystopian society where it seems that people have lost the very connection to humanity: human connection. Even being friends with someone seems to threaten the very fabric of that unseen society. Who we are introduced to are outcasts who are on the run, and who have to justify themselves at every moment.

It's an interesting experiment, with some wonderful wordplay and some Satori-expected theatricality in presentation (the audience is made to entirely clear out during intermission and return to an almost completely new environment, so don't leave in the middle if you want to say you've seen the whole thing). Barr and Franzen perform with conviction, though Franzen is by far the more compelling and charismatic performer. So, Barr carries this wordy and unexplained world on her back ultimately without success. But I don't regret going. And you may well find far more to contemplate after than I did.

courtesy SecondStory Rep

SecondStory Repertory is producing Keely and Du by Jane Martin. Apparently, it's a kind of open secret that Jane Martin is actually a pen name and that the writer is Jon Jory or maybe someone close to him, like his wife. It also runs until May 25.

This is a devastating look at the abortion controversy taken about as extremely as it could be taken. A rogue anti-abortion group has kidnapped young Keely knowing that she is pregnant by rape  in order to prevent her from aborting. Although "Jane Martin" has written many plays, this one may have needed a pen name due to the explosive political nature of the plot and because it debuted at the Humana Festival in red-state Kentucky. Even in 1994, it would have created deep controversy.

Director Rick Wright wants to make both sides of the debate come out reasonably, but the fact that one side kidnaps the other makes that side's argument enormously weaker by definition. It's a strong cast. Alicia Mendez as Keely in a role that she seems made for, Ruth McRee as the nurse Du who struggles to keep from loving Keely as a daughter while being a soldier of God, John Clark as the didactic Walter, the chief of the rogues, and Christopher C. Cariker as Cole (I won't describe who he is, since that involves a kind of spoiler).

It's not an easy play to sit through and the pacing here is a bit on the slow side, but it was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and can remind you of all of the variations of justifications that anti-abortionists use. SSR is struggling to draw audiences, but knew they might have difficulties when they programmed the play. Do show support for a difficult and risky choice, if the topic interests you at all. It's a very emotional experience.
Matt Giles and Daniel Stoltenberg in A New Brain

On a happier note, STAGEright is presenting the musical A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine. William Finn actually suffered a brain injury and while he was recovering he devised much of this musical though in a highly fictionalized version.

It's funny and has some great songs, which one expects from the  writer of March of the Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Directed with verve by Zandi Carlson, the best performers on stage are some of the small roles with a quirky "nice nurse" (Andrew Eric Davison), and raucously evil Mr. Bungee (Matt Giles). Obviously Finn did not die and continues to work on more (probably autobiographical) musicals, so it has a happy ending.

Main roles of particular substance were Susan Connors as the mother, Meg McLynn as the friend and Shermona Mitchell as the Homeless Woman. Mitchell has a nice, but not great vocal quality, but she totally puts the song over with 150% effort.

However, you only have through May 17 to catch this show in the Cornish Studio.

Stacie Pinkney Calkins in Hair
You have quite a few more weeks to catch Hair at ArtsWest! They're continuing this classic rock opera through June 7! They probably know how many people would want to see this iconic musical, who grew up with the music and want to revisit the Tribe.

Director David Gassner has assembled a very solid Tribe with some outstanding voices. It's a bit of a different take on the musical, though if you've only seen the movie, that won't matter. You also might not recognize some of the songs, since it includes the entire canon, which the cast album left out.

The first singer to blow you out of the water is the wonderful Stacie Pinkney Calkins who gets the signature song Aquarius. Mark Tyler Miller and Jeff Orton do good work as Claude and Berger, respectively, with Miller moving from uptight to loose and Orton from loose to looser (if that's possible).

Sara Porkalob is an adorable Sheila, and manages a plaintive Easy to be Hard, though the hardship she goes through is barely a moment or two (an odd directing choice). Ryan Floresca is a bit hairless to be Woof, but he makes up for it with sass. And I could definitely see more of Amanda Louise Carpp (as Jeanie) in other productions, with a lovely voice and an endearing characterization. Another interesting introduction (to me) was to Jelani Kee, a relative newcomer to town who can sing and dance pretty athletically.

The Band was kick ass managing to sound large enough to handle the score. Costumes by K.D. Shill worked well. Choreography by Mary Angelo was inventive and fun. I just wish the flag actually had yellow fringe.

The music is still sublime. Virtually every song. And I can't help thinking about all those Broadway audiences back in the 60s hearing: Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty, Father why do those words sound so nasty? Still makes me gasp and laugh to think of that on Broadway! (And yes, several folk get naked here, though why not everyone is hard to fathom.)

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