Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Forward Flux presents two one-acts of note: The Wedding Gift and The Summer House

The Wedding Gift (Joe Moore)
The Wedding Gift
Forward Flux Productions
(at Gay City Arts)
Through October 8, 2016

Chisa Hutchinson wrote a whole new language for her 80 minute play, The Wedding Gift! What’s fascinating is that by the end of the play, we understand a whole lot of it, or at least can clearly understand what has happened. Don’t worry, there’s some English in there, too.

Hutchinson turns the slavery story on its racial head in Forward Flux’s production. A white guy, Doug (Andrew Shanks) wakes up mostly naked in a strange, strange land. He doesn’t know how he got there, but once shackled and threatened, he realizes he’s a slave.

We see a wedding ceremony (beautifully done ritual, especially the costuming by Carolyn Hall), and learn from the interpreter (Marquicia Dominguez) that he’s a wedding gift. He figures out that he’s to have sex with the bride (Nazlah Black), who we see spurned by her spoiled, petulant groom.

Everything is alien. Doug believes he’s been kidnapped and intergalactically sex-trafficked. All he wants to do is get home to his young daughter. Slowly, he realizes he can’t.

The play takes some getting used to in terms of language displacement, but it’s clear that Hutchinson wants the audience to identify with and understand the ordinary Joe…I mean Doug. She makes that pretty easy.

Director Wesley Fruge does a great job with ritual and managing an entire new language. His cast works that very believably. Black is able to put across complex emotions though why her character is so bereft of emotional support anywhere but with the Gift is something you just have to accept as part of the story.

Given the fish out of water story, one must accept a lot of things that could be possible, including that someone could find himself on a different planet and not know how he got there. It’s fun to try to determine what might have happened, and the twist at the end gives us a big clue.

For a parable about racism, it’s a bit on the plain side, but maybe that’s a credit as well, since one doesn’t have to guess at what the playwright is driving at. That kind of plainness works better in a shorter work, which is less tiresome than a long polemic.

Read an interview with Chisa about her new play on Knowing what a playwright intends is often very useful and interesting. She talks specifically about the otherization of people into groups we don’t have to identify with. It’s an important topic and one that can be tough to tackle. Since she creates hoops for the audience to jump through, in terms of learning a new language, the simplification of the rest of the intention may be wise.
The cast of The Summer House (Joe Moore)
The Summer House
Forward Flux Productions
(at Gay City Arts)
Through October 8, 2016

The new play, The Summer House, by Sarah Bernstein weaves together young college students, end of summer angst, vacation hi-jinks, drinking and rape culture in a cinematic 70 minute offering. All the other vacation-house sharers have left for their respective colleges and only the house renter, Gil (Cameron Hodges), and two best friends, Harley (Tori Nelson) and Dylan (Te Yelland) are left.

The rhythm of their last day and night together in the house is slow and aimless, partly by design, and perhaps a bit by fussy set changes. Gil is worried about getting his steep deposit back and has found a hedgehog (?!) in the pool drain that he can’t get out. Harley just doesn’t want to leave and go back to real life yet and Dylan is glad to have Harley to her almost-self for once. All of them know each other well, going back to high school.

But a mystery hangs in the air like a cloud: another young woman has gone missing. Did she wander off with some town boys? Did Gil put a roofie in her drink last night? Did something more desperate happen? They scan their cells occasionally, sometimes pushing away dark thoughts, sometimes worrying that they’ll find something terrible.

All three are still trying to figure themselves out, but all of them represent some very privileged students. They’re easily presumed to be rich, and with few social boundaries of restraint hindering them from saying exactly what they think, no matter how scathing. Dylan is the most restrained and anxious of the trio, though she finally demonstrates how far she’ll go to follow the most unrestrained of actions. The ultimate follower.

Harley is the quintessential mean girl. She’s mean to everyone and somehow everyone puts up with it. She doesn’t seem phased by any rotten comments, nor by the mysterious disappearance and we don’t know how much of an act that is. As portrayed by Nelson, Harley really doesn’t care. Nelson has exactly the right air of dismissal, nonchalance, and protective armor to pull all that off.

Similarly, Yelland is pitch perfect as the follower, the insecure best friend who knows so much about everyone that she could destroy the best of them, but too scared to even try. Dylan also longs for Gil’s attention, even as we find out more about him that makes him too repellent to be attractive.

Jordan Gerow’s sound design generally hits the right notes for the constant underscore of the ocean right next door. A problem is the lazy sound effect that is supposed to startle the audience and the characters – a loud generic noise. It sounds like someone dropping a book or piece of wood on the floor. Each time, it takes one out of the play, back to the small theater. It should have been a much more connected noise that suggests a car door banging, or a garbage can falling over, or something falling into the pool.

Besides that particular flaw, there is a lot to admire about all the undercurrents packed into the script in a compressed space. The dialogue is real sounding, although pathetic. The relationships are also real feeling, although deeply flawed. The ending may not be fully earned, but the ambiguity makes the production continue to work on in your mind.

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