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Posts Tagged ‘steven dietz’

This Random World
by Steven Dietz
Directed by Renee Sevier-Monsey
West End Players Guild
September 29, 2018

Kate Weber, Ted Drury
Photo: West End Players Guild

The subtitle of West End Players’ Guild’s latest production, This Random World, is “The Myth of Serendiptiy”. It’s an attempt to challenge concepts of fate and coincidence, with some intresting and at times frustrating answers. It’s an intriguing concept, certainly.

This is a difficult play to review, because going into too much detail will spoil the story. It’s essentially a puzzle, of sorts, with the various characters as the pieces, and the constantly looming question of how, and even if, the pieces will eventually come together. Those “pieces” include brother and sister Tim (Ted Drury) and Beth (Tinah Twardowski), who start off the play reflecting on life, death, and world travel. Through a series of seemingly random events, Tim and Beth, along with their mother Scottie (Lynn Rathbone), Scottie’s caretaker Bernadette (Jessa Knust), Bernadette’s sister Rhonda (Kate Weber), Tim’s former high school girlfriend Claire (Eleanor Humphrey), and Claire’s boyfriend Gary (Joel Zummak) find themselves in some hard to believe situations that bring some of them into contact with more than a few “near misses” along the way. Situations involving a funeral home, world travel, and various relationships serve to advance the story, with increasing degrees of implausibility, and a last-minute “twist” that somehow manages to be both surprising and not-so-surprising at the same time.

This is the kind of play that especially frustrates me, since so much of the plot depends on contrivances, as well as characters behaving in ways that make little sense. Although there are some thought-provoking ideas and memorable characters, the overall story comes across less as a serious exploration of concepts and more of an exercise in fooling the audience in ways that become more and more ridiculous as the story unfolds. For me, despite some strong performances, especially from Rathbone as the aging but adventurous Scottie, Drury as the bewildered Tim, and Weber as the somewhat flighty Rhonda, this play succeeds more as an exercise in frustration than anything else. It’s a well-done production, but the story is just too pretentious for its own good most of the time. The staging and technical aspects, including the minimal but effective set by Carrie Phinney, lighting by Phinney, Sound by director Renee Sevier-Monsey, and costumes by Mary Beth Winslow, are effective, adding interest and atmosphere to the production.

There’s a lot to think about conceptually in This Random World, as implausible as this whole story can be. Still, the idea is intriguing, and the strong cast makes it even more so. It’s a memorable start to a new season for West End Player’s Guild.

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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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