nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 8, 2006
Writing a play can be demanding and even taxing on a playwright's soul, so taking on obstructions may seem crazy, but in fact, it helps a playwright think outside the blackbox as he/she tries to incorporate things like "the play must be set in a drawer" or "one character must create an original sonnet" into their creations. These two are actual examples of some of the obstructions given by Lee Blessing, Naomi Iizuka and Sarah Ruhl to the playwrights of Slant Theatre Project. The Obstruction Plays all have a freshness about them that grew out of these challenges to make an evening of very enjoyable theatre.
The night is made up of six original short plays, all performed in succession with different casts and directors. They all have minimal-to-no sets, making the transitions between plays quick and painless. The obstructions are given to us via two "obstructionists" who appear between acts bearing hand written signs.
The first play, The Dinner Table, penned by Dan O'Brien and directed by Suzanne Agins, is a glimpse at an over-analyzing playwright who is unable to let go of his creation and allow it to live on its own through the actors. It's a funny, well-written play that pokes fun at playwrights, actors, and theatre artists in general.
The next piece, Priest in a Pool, written by Michele Lowe and directed by Adam Knight, is poignant, dramatic, and intriguingly open-ended. It's just two characters, a priest and a young boy, with the priest trying to get the kid to jump off the diving board into the pool. However, there's a catch, I won't give it away here, but it is truly a very clever turnaround and makes the whole thing take on a new meaning when it is uncovered. I give the highest praise to Lowe and her director for creating and executing such an ingenious metaphor for a leap of faith. Or could the priest be after something else? I told you it's open-ended.
The last play before a brief intermission, Caution: Parents May Be Less Insane Than They Appear by Lisa Kron and directed by Wes Grantom, is a very funny look at the techno-challenged portions of the older generations. If you've ever watched your parents try to program a VCR you may know what I'm talking about. However, in this case, Kron has deviously taken it to the extreme. Her characters are forced to walk on eggshells around their new piece of misunderstood technology. Grantom's direction stood out for me with simple conventions such as marking the corner of the empty stage with a helium balloon and leading the eye with unnatural movement.
The first play of the second half of the night, I See London, I See France, written and directed by Evan Cabnet, is the one with the aforementioned setting in a drawer. It's basically a funny sketch about three people who are stuck in a drawer and are planning their escape when the drawer finally opens and, hopefully, Donald Rumsfeld will be there for whatever reason. Cabnet's writing is good but his ending is just plain silly if not cliché.
The next piece, Blooming Andromachae by Marcus Gardley and directed by Lori Wolter, is dramatic and extremely well acted. I'm not entirely sure what this one is all about but it has to do with deception and the need we sometimes have to believe in something. I really liked the writing, directing, and especially the acting in this one, but I had the feeling that Gardley had more to say but was limited by time and by his obstructions.
The final play, Unlimited, written by Mat Smart and directed by Steve Cosson, is a fantastic piece of physical theatre that looked like it might have been inspired by a street theatre piece in Amsterdam. The dialogue is sparse and often repeated as are some of the actions. Each of the dozen or more characters on stage has a newspaper and a Coca-Cola product. A stranger enters and she is the catalyst for a new direction. In fact, the piece seems to be an abstract search for love from a stranger. I really liked this one the best of the bunch because it embodies the raw and very original feeling of the entire program. It's a good piece to end the night on. Smart's writing is clever as ever and Cosson does a great job creating levels and moving too many people around a tiny stage.
I think all the actors deserve a hand for jobs well done; some whose work jumped out at me are Robert Karma Robertson, Amy Lynn Stewart, Brian Slaten, Garrett Neergaard, Marnye Young, Kathleen White, and Arlando Smith.
Slant Theatre Project has once again produced a night of theatre that is fresh and fun. I always have a good time at their productions and I think you will too. It's young, inventive theatre companies like Slant that keep me coming back to see what's treading the boards these days.