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H Street Playhouse - ARCHIVE
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October 3 - 12, 2003
Gurney X 2

Reviewed October 4
Tickets $12 - $15
Running time 2 hours

It is always a pleasure to welcome a new production company to the incredibly vibrant theater community of the Potomac Region, especially when it is a company that strives to present interesting material right from the start. The Barnstormers Theatre Company formed by Marilyn Bennett and Dwane Starlin is off to a nice start with this pair of one act plays by the intriguing playwright A. R. Gurney who gave us such unique properties as Sylvia which is about an affection triangle of man, his wife and dog and Love Letters which presents the life cycle of a love affair through the letters the man and woman write each other over the years. Here Gurney takes on literature from two distinctly idiosyncratic viewpoints.

Storyline(s): In The Love Course two professors who have been conducting a college course on the treatment of love in literature are wrapping up the semester with one final lecture.  In The Comeback the family of Odysseus parties while they await his return from the siege of Troy. When he arrives he isn’t too thrilled with taking up his role as head of this household.

Bennett and Starlin formed the company, produced this show and appear in both one act plays - but this is certainly no two-person operation. A total of seven performers and a host of backstage talent go into the mix. Director Charlene James-Duguid achieves a feeling of unity even with such disparate one act plays - one set in modern times and one in a humorously anachronistic mixture of ancient and modern.

The cast of The Love Course includes Bennett as one professor, an expert on romance literature who has fallen in love with her co-presenter, Starlin, whose character’s specialty is classical literature and whose outlook is decidedly less romantic. Bennett is both funny and convincing as her attraction to Starlin becomes more and more apparent. Starlin makes an attractive object for her affection and director Charlene James-Duguid draws from him a nicely polished performance without excessive posturing. However, the script throws him a few curves as this classicist with a passion for Plato and Euripides seems turned on by the romance of Romeo and Juliet. There is good support from Janet Patton as a student in the course and Michael Dove as her boyfriend. It is a mystery, however, how everyone in the cast manages to mispronounce the name of the heights in Emily Bronte’s classic novel as “withering.”

The Comeback is more of an ensemble piece with Starlin taking more of a back seat and Michael Miyazaki becoming the center of attention as the returning Odysseus. The humor here is a bit more scattershot than in The Love Course.  James-Duguid and her design team have fun with eclectic costume designs and a plethora of modern props. (Starlin is a kick as he plays air guitar on a tennis racket.)  Bill White hovers around as a ubiquitous “reporter,” breaking out a digital camera from time to time, before his true identity as Homer is revealed.

Written by A.R. Gurney. Directed by Charlene James-Duguid. Design: Jordan Sudermann (lighting and stage management) Vanessa Vaughn (photography). Cast: Marilyn Bennett, Michael Dove, S. Lee Knorr, Michael Miyazaki, Janet Patton, Dwane Starlin, Bill White.

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August 13 - September 10, 2003

Reviewed August 25
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes
Musefire Productions
Price $15

The range in quality in this set of three one-act plays is astonishingly wide. It goes from quite good to, well, quite not. Each piece is a stand-alone effort, with three different directors tackling three very different plays from very different times. The decline in quality from the earliest play to the latest is not, one hopes, a reflection of what has happened to theater in general over the past century. Two are previously published and produced plays and one is a world premiere of a play that needs significant editing prior to any future publication or production.

Storylines: Trifles (1916) reveals the details behind the death of a man we never see through the discussions of the investigators and of the neighbors who they question. Springtime (1986) takes a pair of lovers through cycles of jealousy which kills their relationship and Citizen Patrol (2003) is a diatribe against post-9/11 overreaction delivered with one-sided single-mindedness.

In Trifles, author Susan Glaspell uses the powers of observation of the police and just plain folk to create a story in the audience’s mind without ever actually showing it. Instead, the things in one room and the memories of the witnesses yield information which you put together in your head to create a picture of what must have gone on in the neighboring room where the man’s corps has been found. It is sort of an early “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” without the special effects. Here it is nicely performed by a cast of mixed abilities. William Aitken and Amy Flanagan are quite natural and effective as the neighboring couple who reported the death and Jennifer L. Rigway adds a nice touch of prairie reserve but Ric Andersen is wooden and artificial as the investigating attorney.

Musefire begins to introduce an element of multi-media presentation into the evening with Springtime. The set of the lovers’ bedroom is dominated by a large video screen on which is shown a picture of an idyllic rural scene in lush greens which gradually turns to black and white as the lovers’ relationship deteriorates. These particular lovers are Adrienne Nelson as Greta, ill with some sort of condition, and Tuyet Thi Pham as her lesbian partner, Rainbow, who prostitutes herself to get money for medicine. As the jealousy mixes with guilt, the picture saturates into a blur. Another medium built into the event is the music of a cabaret-type singer (E. Cassandra Hoye) and bass player Brandy Brewer.

The final play of the evening, Washington-area writer Merideth M. Taylor’s Citizen Patrol, suffers both from a script that is unrelentingly obvious and single-minded and performances that seem to accent the amateurish. It begins as a situation comedy-like scene as one couple try to recruit their neighbors into a neighborhood watch styled anti-terrorism group which would identify and even use a citizen’s arrest on anyone who is “suspicious,” “not like us” and “one of them.” Theater has always been an accepted form of expression of political views but it becomes wearying when it takes a heavy hand to a single viewpoint and here there is only one view: modern America is violating every value it is supposed to hold in its pursuit of security and economic progress. The play switches methods but not position half way through to attempt to become a sort of confrontation theater as the multi-media focuses on the audience and the action is turned into a kind of terrorist/hostage shtick. J. Matthew Miller’s effort to energize the event as the couple’s son who threatens to blow the entire theater up gives a brief spark to the play, but soon it sinks in the lack of readiness of the cast to deal with any audience response. By that time, the downward slope of the evening has hit bottom.

Written by Susan Glaspell, Maria Irene Fornes, Merideth M. Taylor. Directed by Jamie Roberts, Michelle T. Hall and A. Lorraine Robinson. Design: Kiersten E. Moore (set) LeVonne Lindsay (costumes) Allen Grimm (lights) Erik Trester (sound and multi-media) Jody Taylor Barasch (stage manager). Cast: William Aitken, Rick Andersen, Ramtin Arablouei, Brandy Brewer, MaConnia Chesser, Tom Cutler, Leslie Fields, Amy Flanagan,  M.E. Cassandra Hoye, Derrick Lampley, J Matthew Miller, Gale Munroe, Adrienne Nelson, Tuyet Thi Pham, Sean Pier, Jennifer L. Ridgway.