Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Theatre--Review (Wanderlust Theatre at Burke)

A good number of high schools assigned William Faulkner’s masterpiece The Sound and the Fury, a dense tome that somehow my school forgot to assign. The tale is told on four different days spanning almost twenty years and from four different points of view, frequently jumping from one to another. Its non-linear style requires particular focus on the part of the reader, and my friend John Maraist lent me his copy that had wonderful notes detailing which day was which. Unfortunately I never got very far before I was lost and gave up on the affair.

Marc Chun’s one act play Match employs a similar narrative style to The Sound and the Fury. Five unnamed characters are sitting on the stage in dissimilar chairs and deliver small sentences, sometimes longer monologues, frequently switching from one character to another. At first, they are all mumbling “I’m sorry” interspersed with other nonsense, but eventually they stop to begin explaining their lives. It’s obvious these five souls are connected somehow, and in the course of the swift fifty minutes, it’s clear who they are and how they are tragically related to one another. Just enough clues are given to start matching up the characters and how these people, who normally might not know each other and never meet, cross each other paths. The revelations are also nicely paced, leaving the audience with curiosity as to why character one is even part of this production, but the tantalizing hints pay off in the end. Chun’s play requires focus on the audience, rather than just being passive receptacles of information. It was a thought-provoking evening that left the audience dwelling on the randomness of life.

To reveal the plot would rob the play of its significance, especially if it is possible for the reader to attend the play. Match, a Wanderlust production, will perform for the Hub City Theatre & Storytelling Festival at Cite Des Arts on December 9th, 2011 at 7:00 pm as well as at the Acadiana Center for the Arts on December 10th, 2011 at 9:15 pm. Suffice it to say that the play revolves around character number three, who is in need of a blood marrow donor—a match as implied by the title—and the other four characters are tied to his struggle. There’s a girlfriend to character number three, a Hollywood star, her press agent, and an apparently random fifth character whose connection is not explained until nearly the last fifteen minutes of the play. Each character has a rich background to share, and the audience appreciates their quirks, their hopes, and their disappointments. There are two very dramatic moments in the play, and one action in particular by character five is quite unexpected but utterly believable. I can’t say things work out in the end; most things in life don’t, but it adds an authentic quality to the play.

Director Elsa Dimitriadis has assembled five actors well-suited to their roles, and to save time I will subsequently refer to the five characters by the actors playing their parts. As character three, M. Brady McKellar gave a sympathetic portrayal of a man waiting for that all perfect match, not only for the blood marrow, but also in his soul-mate, character four. With his thumbs punching through the ragged holes of his sweatshirt, McKellar’s appealing believable as a man who dreams impossible dreams but has the courage to chase them. Jarin Schexnider played character four, Brady’s geeky intelligent girlfriend, and gave the most compelling physical performance. From her hunched shoulders to the position of her feet in those impossibly bright sneakers, one believes she’s a researcher who has doubts about her relationship with Brady. Character two is the Hollywood star who’s a potential match for Brady, and Elizabeth Satterly has the looks to carry off the part and yet look like an actress who can’t get a positive review. David Huynh is character five, the Hollywood star’s press agent, who manages to be both repugnant for his constant manipulation of his star’s career and yet sympathetic because he obviously cares for her, more than she will ever know. It’s his sudden reversal that strikes you most, and yet you understand why he did it, and why humans are perhaps the most complicated creatures on earth. The character who seemed out of place for the longest time was character one, played by Bobby Bender. (I still remember performing with Bobby in Lafayette Community Theatre’s production of Our Town over twenty years ago.) At first, I felt annoyed with Bobby’s portrayal until I understood how well his character is somebody we probably all know and go out of our way to avoid. This unlikable person who intersects the other four lives represents a true person, and not the stereotypes we often see in both movies and plays. It was a fine display of acting.

Plays like this one constructed as they are make it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the director. There is precious little blocking or movement, except subtle shifts in chairs, and I find it hard to differentiate the line between the author’s intent and the director Elsa Dimitriadis’ imput. Every character is talking to either a single person, or in Satterly’s case, a talk show audience, which depending on where you’re sitting robs the audience of some facial expressions; only veteran Bobby Bender used his expressions for the fullest effect. Dimitriadis needs to slow some actors down, particularly Jarin Schexnider, whose verbal responses to her counselor near the end are too quick to have allowed someone to say anything to her. And as much as the gold watch fits David Huynh’s press agent, I would find something not so reflective to the stage lights. At various moments, I thought a white moth has fluttered onto the stage. I would also suggest changing his chair to fit the circumstances of his situation, and while I won’t reveal what situation that was, he would never be sitting on a stool to do what he was doing. There were a couple of moments when the interchanging dialogue suddenly stopped, and it was obvious someone had not jumped on their cue, but those were blessedly few.

Still, those are minor faults in an overall well-constructed play. I look forward to seeing what Dimitriadis does with a more conventional play for tonight she orchestrated a good evening with Marc Chun’s Match. I might even attempt to re-tackle Faulkner’s masterpiece.
--Vincent P. Barras

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