Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Life and Death of Possibilities

The Life and Death of Possibilities

By Tom Wachunas

In an ambitious new endeavor, Canton’s Players Guild Theatre is kicking off its 78th season with The New Play Conservatory, coordinated by Jeremy P. Lewis. He and a critic’s circle of 13 individuals read and evaluated dozens of script submissions from around the country, and ultimately three plays were chosen for production as world premieres in the Guild’s William G. Fry Arena Theatre.

First in the trio of plays that run for three performances each is “Pills,” (which opened on July 9) written by Michael DeVito of Hartsdale, NY, and directed here by Lewis. It’s a wondrously facile piece of stage literature – part comedy, part morality-play, all riveting and bittersweet in its drama – and a solid vehicle for demonstrating Lewis’ well-honed sensitivity to complicated human relationships.

What fuels this play’s poignant originality, though, is not just its intricate human interactions, but the entities in the form of three characters who are not yet human in a fully physical sense. Whether you call them urgent yearnings, or curious wantings, they represent the essences of unborn children. In those roles, Justin C. Woody, Sonny Gzybowski, and Stacey Essex are marvelously energetic and haunting. They badger and cajole their patient “Guide” - played warmly, with convincing if not enigmatic authority by Kathy Boyd – to help them understand where and what they are, and where they want to go. They are simultaneously the sources and victims of their potential parents’ mental and emotional anguish over whether or not to bring children into the world.

The potential parents are two New York City couples – one married (Max and Sally), one not (Seth and Karen) - struggling fiercely with their relationships as well as deeply conflicting decisions about having children. Marvin A. Vance Jr. plays the free-wheeling Seth with a disarming combination earthy honesty and detached emotions, tinged with cavalier wisdom. Karen is his new girlfriend, still smarting from a recent breakup. To that role Bethany Taylor brings an endearing desire for answers and stability, sometimes tainted with vitriolic sarcasm.

As Max, Nate Ross is both hilarious and scary in his credible portrayal of an obsessive-compulsive, right-fighting moralizer who distrusts any medication designed to balance a depressed mind, and thinks bringing children into this miserable world would be an intolerable selfishness. He – not birth control pills or mind-fixing drugs - is the real pill in this scenario. Megan Rosenberg plays Sally with equal authenticity – a combination of genuine pain, uncertainty, and desperate hope amid emotional turmoil. For them, resolution comes in the final scene. We see them on their backs, gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in an intriguing recap of the scene when we first met them. They recall Max’s dream of seeing the painted image of God, in the act of creating Adam, crashing to the floor, leaving Adam in the presence of a gaping hole. It’s a thoroughly tender scene that promises the couple just might be filling in the void that plagued them.

Yet for all of the electrifying performances that these artists consistently imparted through their crisp, rapid-fire dialogue, one scene has seared itself into my memory as the high (or “low”, depending upon your predisposition) point of the evening. And ironically enough, the moment, delivered by Stacey Essex (one of the unborn children whose time on stage is relatively brief), wasn’t powered by spoken words at all. It came at the point in the story when Karen aborted her child, fathered by Seth. One can only wonder how director Lewis was able to elicit from Essex such heartrending emotion, or what depths of memory and experience such a young actress needed to plumb. Fallen to a crumpled heap, she unleashed a long, liquid cry that chillingly escalated to a bone-shattering scream.

For those of you who think it’s not a theatre critic’s place to moralize, get over it. The fact of the matter is, the scene I just described utterly impoverishes any defense of abortion, and makes even the most eloquent verbal objections to it pale by comparison.

New Play Conservatory at the Players Guild William G. Fry Arena Theatre, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, Canton, Ohio. All performances at 8p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30p.m. Sundays, Tickets $10. Call (330) 453 – 7617.
Next up: “Mona Lisa” by Ron Burch, July 16 – 18

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