Saturday, August 13, 2016

Passages 2016 (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Each year Theatre Unleashed in North Hollywood shows a series of short plays directed by company members but using non-company members for the cast.  It has proven quite handy in recruiting new talent and highlighting original writing.  The event is called Passages, and is underway.  As ever, the results end up a tad uneven but worth the price of admission.

Five plays make up this year's lineup:

Telemachus, Friend is a musical of all things (don't scoff--TU did a cluster of mini-musicals this past Hollywood Fringe to justified audience acclaim).  A western love story, about a triangle that refuses to become a tragedy because the people involved--Telemachus Hicks (TR Krupa), Widow Jessup (Kristen Bennett), Paisely Fish (Jeff Blumberg)--prove just too nice to let it get to that point.  Lindsay Zana and Mel Hampton make up the rest of the cast as singing Narrators. It makes for a charming show, but Bennett kinda steals it. Book & lyrics by Michael Gordon Shapiro and directed by Graydon Schlichter.

Revisiting the Cave by Ben Atkinson is an interesting little slice of life, equal parts hope and despair, but without much judgment aimed at the two characters--a Friend (Francesca Gamez) visiting the cave of the title, home of the Gamer (Lena Raff) who still gets high and plays games and is still in show business with not a lot of focus or prospects.  Yet I liked them both.  Liked them together.  They'll probably never see one another again, which was bittersweet yet okay.  Kudos to the cast and director Liesl Jackson.

The Picture of Oscar Wilde by Brandie June Chernow might be my favorite script offered this year.  Essentially it imagines the great writer Oscar Wilde  (Samwise Aaron) on the verge of death in exile following his release from prison for sodomy.  A handsome young man approaches and turns out to be none other than Dorian Grey (Damien Luvara) , arguably his most (in)famous and personal creation. Author and creation have a conversation, immortal character and dying human man, about life and art and desire.  Frankly, the whole thing proved so well-written I wanted a longer play.  Half an hour at least!  I was less than fascinated by the actors, but then I also thought they probably had the most difficult task, and director Matthew Martin certainly drew something quite real from them.

Cyrano di Padua by Bobby McGlynn frankly felt rather odd.  Imagine if you will Cyrano de Bergerac (Jeremy Michael Kozeluh) as a good friend of Petruchio (Nate Champion) from The Taming of the Shrew.  Hence the famous "balcony scene' of the former's play is reworked into a plan to help Petruchio win himself a bride, Bianca (Madi Vodane).  Yeah, Bianca.  That he ends up with Katherine (Kimberly Sadovich) is the twist, one I personally found a bit beyond my understanding, but maybe that was me.  Director David Foy Bauer certainly seemed to have done a fine job.

Get a Job by Wendy Gough Soroka might be the most successful miniplay of the show, simply  because it comes closest to realizing its full potential.  Plus I love the premise--an afterlife for fictional characters who died.  Hamlet (Michael Marcel) goes to an employment agency in this afterlife and finds out his worker is none of than Medea (Libby Letlow).  Honestly, this is my kind of zany, played to a tee by both performers and with some genuine surprises to enjoy along the way.  Directed by Courtney Sara Bell.

Passages plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm until August 20, 2016 at the Belfry Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St, North Hollywood, California 91602 (upstairs).

No comments: