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Last Thursday, February 12, I was privileged to see two intriguingly presented productions by new local theatre companies. With relatively simple staging and somewhat unusual concepts, these plays provided for thought-provoking and entertaining theatrical experiences. Here’s what I thought:

The Nina Variations

By Steven Dietz

Directed by Andrew Michael Neiman

Flying Blind Productions

Taylor Steward, Leo B. Ramsey Photo: Flying Blind Productions

Taylor Steward, Leo B. Ramsey
Photo: Flying Blind Productions

A small but ambitious production directed by local actor/director Andrew Michael Nieman, The Nina Variations uses the backdrop of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull to explore themes of love, writing, theatricality, jealousy and more.  Staged at Clayton High School’s Little Theatre, this was a somewhat bizarre but thoroughly intriguing production, featuring two talented local performers. It seems like it would be easier to follow if one has seen the source material, although it still works even for those who may be unfamiliar with Chekhov’s work.

I have to admit I’ve never seen or read The Seagull, although the basic concept here appears to be a series of riffs based on that theme rather than a direct adaptation of the material. The leading characters here are taken from Chekhov’s work, although they are given life beyond the confines of that script. With a chessboard-like stage strewn with various editions of the play, The Seagull is kept in mind even as this play examines and deconstructs its characters and concepts. There are strong, extremely physical and emotional performances from Leo B. Ramsey as the playwright Treplev, and Taylor Steward as the actress, Nina, who serves as Treplev’s muse as well as his occasional adversary and writing rival.  The performers display excellent chemistry, energy, and engaging charm as they walk, glide and dance around the stage, sometimes even engaging the audience directly. In one particularly amusing interactive moment, Ramsey waxed rhapsodic about critics while sitting directly next to me.

This was a simple but visually striking production, making good use of music and multi-colored lighting effects as the performers explored their love for writing, theatre and, occasionally, each other.  The obsessive Treplev and the somewhat flighty Nina were well realized here, with dynamic staging and strong technical elements.  It was an unusual play that covered a multitude of concepts in its approximately 100 minute running time. It may appeal especially to Chekhov fans, although its strong performances and compelling concept should make it appealing for discerning theatre-goers in general.

 

Old Wounds

Written and Directed by Mollie Jeanette Amburgey

Good People Theatre

February 12, 204

Cara Barresi, Brian Rolf Photo: Good People Theatre

Cara Barresi, Brian Rolf
Photo: Good People Theatre

This very short new play ran just about 30 minutes, and it has the distinction of being staged in perhaps the most unusual setting I’ve personally seen. In the relatively cozy Betty Grable Suite at the Moonrise Hotel in the Loop, the atmosphere is one of a small dinner party, as the audience is invited to eavesdrop on a conversation between old friends. It’s a meeting that starts out light and friendly but soon takes a surprising turn.

The tone here is one of a somewhat matter-of-fact realism, as playwright/director Amburgey’s script and staging presents a situation that could easily happen any day.  As Samantha (Cara Barresi) and Matt (Brian Rolf), who haven’t seen each other in a while, indulge in Chinese takeout meal, they reminisce and catch up on their lives since they had last seen each other.  As the conversation goes on, we soon learn that there’s more to these two, and their relationship, than first meets the eye. These two have a past together, and as some particularly dramatic events are recalled and discussed, the drama develops, taking on themes of regret, loss, redemption and personal destiny, as well as the concepts of how a person’s past can effect his or her future. With engaging performances from both Barresi and Rolf, this feels not a little like an actual dinner conversation, with little in the way of production values beyond the basic elements–food, dishes, furniture, outfits–that one would see every day.

The whole immersive nature of this play, combined with its structure and perfectly pitched performances, makes for an intriguing blend of high-concept and utmost simplicity.  It’s like a dinner with friends in which a play suddenly breaks out.  I’m grateful for the invitation.

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