Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Millbrook: "Child's Play"

Continuing its challenging 2011 season, the Millbrook Community Players are staging Child's Play, a comedy by Jacqueline Lynch under the direction of Dean Kelly.

On its comfortable living/dining room set [located too far away from the audience, unfortunately] this short two-act piece combines love, jealousy, hypnotism, celebrity, petty arguing, and business-dealings in its sundry relationships among the characters.

Margaret [Kari Gatlin] and Janet [Hailey Beene] are roommates expecting a visit from Hollywood heartthrob Shane Velasco [Michael Williams] to sign a book deal. In comes Hank [Joaquin Guzman] -- Margaret's ex and rival agent -- who brings "famous" hypnotist Guadalupe Montevideo [Madyson Greenwood], an eccentric sort who hypnotizes Margaret out of spite, turning her into a 5-year-old, and then disappears. Psychologist Norman [Chris Kelly], intending to go out on a date with Janet, gets to practice his skills on the now childlike Margaret. -- A lot of confusion ensues over the next hour-and-a-half, with several attempts to locate Guadalupe and restore Margaret to her adult self.

This is pretty predictable stuff, but does engage the audience in its assortment of plot twists and engaging performances. -- Mr. Guzman brings down the house with his antic drunkenness, and Ms. Gatlin grows in her depiction of a 5-year-old by adding petulance and mischief to her bewilderment. Mr. Kelly has the ability to be both compassionate to the "child" and fully frustrated by the predicament.

Getting off to a rather slow start, and with vocal projection a problem, the play picks up energy with Mr. Guzman's and Mr. Kelly's arrivals, and then continues in style. -- Director Kelly often has characters staged behind furniture or upstage of other actors, making them hard to see and hear, but there are a lot of clever lines delivered confidently.

A couple of script references to childhood trauma and losing parents when children adds a serious note that gives breadth to characters. And the arrival of Margaret's grandparents [John Collier & Rae Ann Collier] in Act II enlivens the already confused ensemble to unravel the truth; and when the hypnotist is finally brought back to release her victim, all will end happily.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wetumpka Depot: "Sugar Bean Sisters"

Welcome to Sugar Bean, Florida and the "swamp house" of sisters Fay [Kim Mason] and Willie Mae [Kristy Meanor], two middle-aged women who have been nagging at one another for thirty years since their parents and youngest sister died under bizarre and tragic circumstances. In Nathan Sanders's Southern Gothic dark comedy The Sugar Bean Sisters [1995], directed with a sure hand at the Wetumpka Depot by Tom Salter, the ambivalent relationship between the sisters is at once strange and familiar.

They have just returned from a trip to Disney World to find Videlia Sparks [Jaymee Vowell] inside their house; a cross between a dance-hall floozie and a garish New Orleans Mardi Gras entertainer, Videlia insinuates herself into their lives while Fay awaits the return of a Martian space ship and Willie Mae yearns for deliverance into the "celestial kingdom" -- hopefully in company with the local & handsome Mormon Bishop [Brad Sinclair].

With family buried in the swamp just outside the front door, a convenient thunder storm to douse the lights, several gothic tales of deaths and doom & gloom philosophy, Willie Mae's "settlement" fortune buried in a secret place, assorted "curses" on the family, a murder plot that goes awry, the ghost of their mother occasionally rocking the rocking chair, and a voodoo Reptile Woman's incantations that claim "sometimes you can't tell the devil from an angel" [Anne Marie Mitchell stops the show with her intense characterization], the plot's many twists and turns continually surprise and entertain.

Performances here are top-notch, if a bit unsettling. None of the characters are virtuous,yet we are somehow drawn to them. Even Mr. Sinclair's Bishop is a study of contradictions -- he seems innocently compassionate at first, yet has some sinister traits revealed later on. They lie or dissemble, cheat, plot against or manipulate one another in devious ways; but the dialogue is replete with witicisims and, as we see their faults, we can't help but to approve of disaster to come for them. At the same time, the actors are so fully committed to playing these eccentric dysfunctional types so honestly, that no matter how repellent their actions and ideas might be, we can see them as human beings trying desperately to live out their unfulfilled dreams and escape the family legacies.

Ms. Meanor is stalwart in the role of Willie Mae, the seemingly better adjusted sister; Ms. Vowell's deceptive flightiness belies ulterior motives well; and Ms. Mason's comic timing and animation are exquisite as they hide a darker side. Yet it is their ensemble playing that raises this otherwise quirky dark comedy into a provocative production in which Mr. Salter balances humor and pathos that causes us to reflect on our own motives and relationships.