The 15th Festival of Independent Theatres opened last weekend with half of the eight productions at the Bath House Cultural Center. The other four will open this coming weekend, we'll have reviews next week. But here's the report on John Michael's Like Me, WingSpan Theatre Company's Lydie Marland in the Afterlife, Echo Theatre's The Treatment and Churchmouse Productions' Dead Wait.
Go here for the reviews of the second set of shows: Audacity Theatre Lab's Dinosaur and Robot Stop a Train, Rite of Passage Theatre Co.'s Ask Questions Later, One Thirty Productions' Ask Questions Later and Rhythmic Souls' Play It By Ear.
By John Michael
The advent of online social networking has fundamentally changed communication in today’s world. And among these new portals for connection, Facebook arguably leads the way. Part online diary, part personal billboard, and part communication tool, Facebook has become an essential element of many people’s lives.
And while most would consider this an overall good thing, there is another side to it. Vanity. Now more than ever, in the age of reality TV, YouTube, and Blogger.com the possibilities for admiration are endless. And who doesn’t want to be “liked”?
That’s essentially the question John Michael Colgin is asking in his new one man show Like Me, directed by Donny Covington and playing as part of the Festival of Independent Theaters.
But what do we compromise in the quest to be liked? Through a smartly paced and thought-provoking 50 minutes, John Michael uses his typical urgent, energetic and fully engaged delivery to weave through the peaks and valleys of what it means to be “liked,” what we do to get it, and what that possibly means.
In fact, the show is difficult to quantify simply because its focus is all at once intensely focused yet wide and varied, jumping from one point to the next with the execution of a figure skater landing a triple lutz. Add in a healthy dose of humor and ample audience interaction and the show ends up striking a positive effect with the audience.
Striking and enjoyable enough that it’ll be easy to “like” John Michael.
◊ Like Me is performed in the following performance blocks: 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15; 5 p.m. Sunday, June 16; and 8 p.m. Friday, June 21;
WingSpan Theatre Company
LYDIE MARLAND IN THE AFTERLIFE
by Isabella Russell-Ides
The question of what happens to us after we die is explored enough at this point in art that it could easily be considered stale. However, as with anything, a fresh take on the subject can, pun intended, breathe some life into that dusty old existential statue.
And WingSpan Theatre Company’s Lydie Marland in the Afterlife, by Dallas playwright Isabella Russell-Ides does take a novel approach to the mystery of what awaits us on the other side.
It’s a little bit chilling that this play is based on a real person. Lydie Marland (Cindee Mayfield Dobbs) was at one point in her life a major socialite, married to her uncle and former adopted father, oil tycoon turned Congressman and Governor of Oklahoma, Ernest Marland. But she ended her life in poverty, which is where her story picks up. Recently deceased she wakes up in the afterlife still in her rage and poor looking.
However, a younger incarnation of Lydie (Catherine D. DuBord) is also present in this new ethereal reality and as the show progresses, which is a recounting of the events of her truly fascinating life, the connection between the two women becomes clearer.
Director Susan Sargeant gets excellent performances from both Dobbs and DuBord. Dobbs’ portrayal of the older Lydie is extremely engrossing especially. Sargeant also creates some really excellent stage pictures with the movement of the actresses. The whole play feels like it’s floating through the ether, on a journey towards a grand discovery. And when it gets to that discovery, the audience is left with reassuring warmth. Yet it’s not contrived.
Absent are traditional notions of heaven, hell or even purgatory. In its place, Russell-Ides constructs a believable journey that leaves room for hope, redemption, and reflection on a life lived. And in Lydie Marland’ case, that’s a very good thing.
◊ Lydie Marland in the Afterlife is performed in the following performance blocks: 5 p.m. Saturday, June 8; 8 p.m. Friday, June 14; and 8 p.m. Thursday, June 20.
by Eve Ensler
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Especially in a time when it seems every other person has been diagnosed with some sort of psychological malady. So, it’s easy to write it off as an over-reaction. Like how so many more kids are being diagnosed with ADD these days, but that’s generally considered to be the effect of parents just not wanting to put up with the crazy machinations of adolescents. PTSD, it would seem at times, gets a similar wrap. It’s not about the people who actually have it. It’s about the ones who don’t that give it a bad, or really just diluted, name.
But, PTSD is very real and in Echo Theatre’s production of Eve Ensler’s The Treatment, the most extreme case of this ravaging disorder is plumbed when a returning Iraq War vet (Jordan Willis), who engaged in “enhanced interrogation” tactics while in serving, becomes gripped with insomnia and terrifying flashbacks. He starts seeing an Army psychiatrist (Terri Ferguson) and the true horrors of both his actions and the subsequent post-trauma are brought into the stark, unforgiving light.
Under the direction of K. Doug Miller, Willis and Ferguson both deliver stirring performances. Willis’ transition from disaffected skeptic who simply wants to be able to sleep to fully exposed psychotic breakdown is deceptively entrancing. At first his performance honestly comes off as weak and disengaged. There’s no anger behind his words and when he raises his voice it’s still somewhat restrained. But that’s setting it up, like a volcano on the verge of eruption. It’s the low rumbles that signal the coming explosion. And it’s jarring.
Ferguson balances on the other side of the spectrum. Calm, smoldering, even a little cold, she is the living embodiment of the sterile numbness of an institution. And to see Willis slowly but surely pry off the layers around her and needle at her core is disturbing. And the attempts to maintain extreme stoicism with the obvious effects of the madness bubbling just beneath the surface.
First and foremost, Ensler’s ability to examine both the Iraq War and some of the more questionable tactics used in it and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is masterful in its execution. And as far as a character study goes, The Treatment is fascinating. Both characters in a relatively short time undergo such massive transformations that the audience is left feeling exhausted, in a good way, at the conclusion. Almost like going through a therapy session.
◊ The Treatment is performed in the following performance blocks: 5 p.m. Saturday, June 8; 8 p.m. Thursday, June 13; 8 p.m. Saturday, June 15; and 5 p.m. Saturday, June 22.
by Carson Kreitzer
Existential angst abounds it seems. In Churchmouse Productions’ staging of Carson Kreitzer’s Dead Wait, the audience is treated to a slightly more amusing take on the immediate entry into the afterlife via two deceased waiters Ron (Andrews Cope) and Chris (Jared Culpepper) and Jayne Mansfield (Isabelle Culpepper), all who died tragically and young.
As each character fills in the events of their life that led to their untimely demise, it’s clear that Kreitzer’s aim is to explore the concept of the fragility of mortality. How things be wonderful one minute and then all gone the next. And she’s able to do that with a heavy dose of humor and a poignant sprinkling of intensity, especially from Cope who has only just dies and hasn’t figured out the rules of the ever after yet.
Almost cruelly, both waiters are also waiters in death. Ron refills salt shakers over and over in between his frenetic rants while Chris docilely folds napkins and doles out carefully and slowly worded advice and tidbits of his life.
Ron is clearly Ron Goldman, the man who happened to be with Nicole Brown Simpson when “someone” stabbed her to death. Hence, he got caught in the crossfire – cross-stabbing? – as it were and perished alongside her. But until then his life had been on a decidedly upward swing and he had big aspirations. He’s also a big fan of Jayne Mansfield, which ends up being an important connection as he slowly learns that regret for what happened or didn’t happen in earthly life is of no use to him now.
Neither of the Culpeppers is given a lot to work with being that part of the lesson is to not stress. So both of them employ a molasses-slow delivery with little to no emotional expression. It’s blank and bland, but that’s what it’s supposed to be because it’s put in contrast with the bombastic Ron.
And to that end, Cope is awesome. He ejects intensity and rapidly jumps from point to point as he tries to sort out and come to terms with his new status. The frantic energy is fun despite the often underlying sadness of it all simply because Kreitzer has laid a lot of humor into the material, and especially into Ron’s various tirades. Cope delivers it well.
Director Chad Cline creates some good tableaus, helping the fluidity of the piece and playing that languishing resignation against angsty pacing well. It’s a good-looking and well-acted production of well-written play. And most of all, it’s a truly novel take on the existential piece. There’s a lot to plumb here; a lot to talk about and wonder. It gets a conversation going. A conversation Ron would probably be more than happy to have.
◊ Dead Wait is performed in the following performance blocks: 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 22.
◊ The other four shows will open this weekend. The schedule for openings is:
- 8 p.m. Friday, June 7: Audacity Theatre Lab, Robot and Dinosaur Stop a Train; and Rite of Passage Theatre Company, Ask Questions Later
- 8 p.m. Saturday, June 8: Rhythmic Souls, Play It By Ear; and One Thirty Productions, The 1947 Ford.