The Secret Life of Fish… and Other Writeous Brevities
By Tom Wachunas
One way to appreciate the sixth annual New Works Festival (aka From Script To You) at the North Canton Playhouse is to see it as a kind of ideological prism. This is to say that if the art of the playwright is to somehow shed light on the conditions and directions of our lives, then this festival slices that light into a variably-hued emotional and intellectual spectrum that filters our outlook from one play to the next. And as this collection of seven short (mostly one-act) plays by writers from across the U.S. so clearly (and sometimes disturbingly) reminds us, life can alternately suck or scintillate.
Festival Associate Artistic Director Cassey Martin directs three of the “lighter” plays, which is certainly not to say they lack narrative teeth: Missed Connections, written by Marj O’Neill-Butler; Many Worlds, written by Thomas J. Misuraca; and Hollywood Confidential, written by Shirley King.
Missed Connections is a hilarious take on mistaken identities – a craigslist rendezvous gone wrong. Both Krystian Bender as the fast-talking, flustered Rosie, and Jonathan Martens as the bemused and cautious Bob, are delightfully magnetic in their comedic skills as their characters negotiate broken expectations into a budding relationship. It’s a broken marital relationship that drives Many Worlds, a “serio-comedy” with a what-if, sci-fi twist. Joyce and Herman, portrayed with startling and very funny authenticity by Tawny and Michael Burkhardt respectively, are a hopelessly jaded, mutually accusatory and constantly bickering husband and wife. They lapse into giddy fantasy marriages to other spouses (played by Cassey Martin and Luke Cassidy) in alternative universes. And speaking of giddy, Hollywood Confidential is an over-the-top spoof – a cartoon, really - on secret agents and super heroes that ends the evening on a decidedly silly but refreshing note. Scott Warner as agent Gloria brings gleeful melodrama to his/her fight against forces that would destroy Hollywood culture, and enlists the services of Duck Man (who sounds amazingly like Daffy Duck and vows to thwart “a death worse than fate”), played with infectious abandon by Luke Cassidy.
It’s a classic application of the leave-‘em-laughin’-when-they-go maxim, and a jarring but welcome respite from the brooding darkness of the play immediately preceding it: Solomon the King, written by Kevin Kautzman. Jeremy Lewis, the producing artistic director of the festival, directed this sobering story of two brothers “…whose intractable ideologies collide with deadly consequences,” as stated in the program note. In those roles, Zach Griffin and Dean Coutris are scarily convincing and otherwise unsparing in the vicious tension they bring to their characters.
Lewis also directs Dark Lengths, written by Stanley Toledo, as well as The Last Egg, by Ron Burch. In the former, Stacy Essex is deliciously fetching and naughty in her portrayal of Tammie, who has concocted an elaborate hoax to fend off her boss (played by John Green). He arrives at Tammie’s home thoroughly pumped for a first date, but soon leaves sufficiently disillusioned. The Last Egg is a clever comedic gem that could be a sequel to the notorious sperm scene in Woody Allen’s 1972 film, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask). David Burkhardt is outrageously funny as the nervous but plucky lone sperm seeking permission to “unionize” with a very picky egg, played by the endearing Jenilee Grabenhorst, as she carefully considers what constitutes desirable biochemistry and “that special sperm.”
Placed midway through the seven plays is arguably the evening’s most compelling entry: How Storey Became A Fish. All the more astonishing is the fact that directors Lewis and Martin wrote this riveting work together, in May and June of this year, and cast themselves as a young girl named Storey and her imaginary friend, Sam. Not so much a conventionally structured story per se, this is a mesmerizing, allegorical free-form poem about innocent games morphed into searing memories. Cassey Martin gives us a heartrending portrait of struggling to swim upstream, as it were, through insurmountable hurt. Jeremy Lewis in turn delivers a powerful, often crazed melding of the remembered, simple exuberance of youth with the sinister, stifling shadows of childhood abuse and abandonment.
Dark? Surely. No rose-colored glasses on this one. But then, life can be that way sometimes.
The 2012 New Works Festival, From Script To You, currently showing at North Canton Playhouse McManaway Studio Theatre, 525 7th Street NE in North Canton, Ohio. Language Advisory. General Admission $10. 2-for-1 Student Tickets with I.D. Shows on FRIDAY JULY 6 and SATURDAY JULY 7. Call (330) 494 – 1613. www.northcantonplayhouse.com
Photos by Casey Polatas: Top – Zach Griffin in Solomon the King; Bottom – Jeremy Lewis and Cassey Martin in How Storey Became A Fish