Midtown International Theatre Festival
Exec. Producer: John Chatterton
Assoc. Producer: Theater Resources Unlimited
Managing Director: Emileena Pedigo
Marketing Director: Bob Ost
Press: Judd Hollander/Cynthia Leathers
Festival Lighting Designer: Gustavo Araoz
Venue Manager, Where Eagles Dare: Sarah Bellin
Venue Manager, WorkShop Theatre: Jonathan Jackson
Venue Manager, WorkShop Theatre: Stephanie Ward
Box Office Managers: Jenny Greeman, Colleen Jasinski
July 16, 2007-August 5, 2007
Two Plays about Relationship Anxiety
To the Contrary
Produced by Jonathan Tessero
By Craig Jacobs
Directed by James Valletti
Featuring: Laura Jordan, Jim Weitzer,
Diane J. Findlay, Todd Detwiler, James Mills
The House of Blue Leaves
Produced by Ryan Metzler
By John Guare
Directed by Emily Plumb
Featuring: William Demanlow, Sean Parker, Elizabeth Yocam,
Jessica Love-Adcock, Jennifer Boehm, Jen Browne,
Michael Reyna, Ayelet Blumberg, Craig O’Brien
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 6, 2007
To the Contrary, by Craig Jacobs, revolves around relationships and the fear of commitment, the fear of vulnerability, the fear of trust, and, eventually, the fear of death. The House of Blue Leaves also relates to relationships, on an equally poignant level, with the fear of emotional entrapment and the fear of lost opportunities. One play rivets the imagination and interest and one leaves you frantic.
To the Contrary is a soft, humorous, sensitive handling of one woman’s loneliness and a very creative way of meeting men. She photographs nude male models and offers the models copies of the headshots for their portfolios. She also sees “what’s” available and occasionally crosses the line from lens to lover. Michael, a shy and gorgeous model, becomes entrapped in physical over-time, so Bernie and Michael go for an HIV test so they can shed the extras and build some trust. The medical results impact the plot. Bernie’s older and seasoned, sassy friend, Lesslie, offering an unshakable relationship to be celebrated, drives the humor in Jacobs’ black comedy.
When HIV becomes the elephant in the room, Adam, Bernie’s nude, deceased ghost of a friend, sits onstage with legs strategically crossed and conducts a dialogue with Bernie that eases the pain and elevates the mind. Another model, Alec, a bit more muscular and athletic than Michael, also appears for photos. Laura Jordan, as Bernie, gives an authentic, persuasive, and sincere performance as the tough woman in need. Jim Weitzer, as Michael, gives an equally persuasive performance as a good man with an open heart, forgiving and vulnerable. Diane J. Findlay, as Lesslie, is a remarkable performer, with stage presence extraordinaire. James Mills, as the posthumous Adam, has courage and cool to sit in the buff and deliver such a mesmerizing monologue. James Valletti has directed this production with smooth transitions and a very active side door. To the Contrary deserves a home.
On the contrary, The House of Blue Leaves is disturbing and disordered, with a set of small trash strewn about and a life-sized box for near naked actors to be introduced. Artie Shaughnessy is in a hopeless marriage with a hopeless songwriting career, but his new, shrill mistress, Bunny, hopes to capitalize on his Hollywood connections to jumpstart his success and her potential windfall. The setting is Queens in the 1960’s (the play was written in 1971), and the Pope is in town to offer blessings to the believers. Artie’s wife, Bananas Shaughnessy, has lost her mind, and she role plays as a dog to her zookeeper husband. Bananas actually shifts between human and animal behavior, never receiving the attention and care she needs. Another lead character is Billy Einhorn, the Hollywood “success”, who takes off with Bunny, when she seduces him with tales of her cooking. One problem lies in having actors double their roles, and Sean Parker played Billy and Artie’s criminally volatile son, Ronnie, in a confusing ensemble.
That ensemble is more confusing with a trio of nuns, who are hungry and wild, and Corinna Stroller, a deaf actress, who just happens by. William Demanlow, as Artie, is pathetic and seething, while Jessica Love-Adcock, as Bananas, is pathetic and sorrowful. Both actors were well chosen for this challenging and disturbing work. Elizabeth Yocam as the crass, aggressive, and self-serving mistress, Bunny, is perfect for the role. Ayelet Blumberg is a hilarious nun, but that’s where the hilarity ends. The contrasts in mood and expectation are much too raw. John Guare’s play, itself, is quite unsatisfying and quite upsetting. The ending sends chills into every woman’s bones. Bananas was a woman with untreated illness and an accumulation of grief.
Ultimately, The House of Blue Leaves seems to be about the life and death of hope: hope of Artie’s becoming a famous songwriter, hope of Bunny’s becoming the wife of a star, hope of Bananas becoming lucid and being allowed to feel, hope of the Little Nun’s finding another purpose, hope of Corinna’s regaining her hearing, and hope of Billy’s enabling the renewal of his friend’s marriage. This is not a play I would choose to see again.
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