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April 2004



Theater Reviews

         

The Long and "Short" of It

 

       

HOLLYWOOD, CA - Sometimes when you see really gifted, well-established actors doing one-acts, you wonder if maybe somebody called in some favors.  One-acts are just for practice, right?  For filling out the season?  Giving a shot to the wannabe writers, the maybe directors, the not-ready-for-full-length actors.  Right?

      It's hard to say who's doing favors for whom with the MET Theatre's evening of one-acts entitled "7 MET Shorts."  It's like, what playwright wouldn't want to be featured in this noted L.A. company's thirtieth anniversary celebration of great writing?  What director wouldn't be honored to stage an original work by writers of this caliber?  And what actor wouldn't love to create one of the characters in a noted company's notably directed world premier by a noteworthy writer?  Far from being filler, "7 MET Shorts" is the "evening of one-acts" re-imagined as a vehicle for honest-to-goodness excellence, a showcase not of the marginal but of the best a company has to offer.

       That bunch at the MET...  Always pushing the envelope.  

      The evening opens with Black Tie Affairs by Joshua Rebell, directed by Shawn Tolleson.  Eric Strickland is likably low-key as an under-committed boyfriend at a wedding reception who shakes up his circle of friends when his girlfriend's table hopping gives him a bit too much time to chat up a smart, attractive waitress.  Yvette Thor is fine as a loud friend who's seen way too many break-ups and drunk way too much champagne not to let the whole world hear about it.  Jillian Crane is touching as the girlfriend who comes back, sizes things up, and is almost relieved to break it off with the guy.  

      

Playwright Rebell's scenario is a spot-on dip in the shallow end of the thirty-something dating pool.  I have to quibble with the dialogue, though--not so much the writing as the delivery.  Unnatural pauses keep the scene spasmodic, never quite in sync.  The rhythm--or lack of it--feels imposed.  A director's choice?  It didn't work for me.  But then I've never been drunk at a wedding reception at 2 a.m. 

         Rehearsal is Tom Grimes' hilarious house call on a middle-aged playwright exasperated by an oddball sister who keeps mixing her medications with honesty.  Back story is so deftly layered in that before long we're not just laughing at these brilliant, damaged people with their cupboards crammed with pharmaceuticals, but we care about them, too.  Time Winters and Kristen Lowman take the acting honors for the evening.  Stephanie Shroyer directs.  Superb.  

        Drew Brody's Chess, directed by Lisa James, pits a well-meaning divorced dad (Matthew Glave) against his mother (Jenny O'Hara) over the future of the man's autistic daughter (Zoe Ullet), who doesn't relate to anyone but is apparently becoming a world-class chess player by way of a laptop computer.  Glave and O'Hara's fiery relationship is wonderfully textured and real.  Young Ullet is fearless as the hard-to-love savant.  The pain is palpable, the glimmer of hope at the end just right.  Lovely work all around.  

       Beth Henley's offering is a goofy sex farce entitled Tight Pants, directed by Lisa James.  Maybe 'sex farce' isn't the right phrase.  Try 'fetish farce.'  The gifted Kristen Lowman returns to join Matthew Glave and Scott Paulin in an erotic triangle as odd as it is funny.  Jenny O'Hara is a sitcom-style friend who spends two hysterically funny minutes on the sofa, then disappears.  Weird, pointless, but truly hilarious.

        Juan and Sooz is Susan Emshwiller's period sketch about a wealthy white girl's clumsy attempt to seduce a young Hispanic gardener.  Stephanie Shroyer directs Deborah Puette and Jorge-Luis Pallo in choreographic blocking that's not far from ballet.  The pas de deux takes a satisfying turn when the gardener is emboldened by the girl's kiss to show her how seduction is done where he comes from.  A well-acted study in power.

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Once, by L. Flint Esquerra, is the story of a relationship, packed with incident and recognizable humanity, yet told without dialog in a series of seconds-long flashes separated by blackouts.  It's a bit like the closing minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the Kier Dullea character Dave spends the last years of his life apparently alone in a mysterious chamber.  Imagine how Dave might have behaved if there had been a beautiful woman in an adjoining room.  That's more or less the premise of Once.  Jeremy Gabriel is the smitten man, Yvette Thor the woman.  Esquerra directs his own script.  An experiment that works.  

      It Wasn't Proust is Drew Brody's adaptation of a story by Sam Shepard.  Directed by Shawn Tolleson, it is for me the evening's least successful effort, or at any rate its least enjoyable.  Is the character played by Jillian Crane supposed to be the most irritating woman ever?  Is the ending supposed to be unclear and baffling?  Are the characters' reactions supposed to have little correlation with what's being said or done?   If the answer to all of the above is yes, then It Wasn't Proust is a resounding success.  But it's still not enjoyable.  Maybe it is Proust.

      Overall, it's hard to imagine a company this side of the Hudson River summoning as much writing talent as the MET boasts in these seven world premieres, all by playwrights the company has featured over its three exciting decades in L.A.   In "7 MET Shorts" the MET Theatre is impressively and deservedly strutting its stuff.               - G.R. White -  Printable View

 

 

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