PLAY BY PLAY Blue Moons
by Alan Gelb, Romulus Linney, Ellen Margolis, Fred Sahner, Steve Schmitt, Daniel Talbott and David Zellnik
With Dan Fenaughty, Jonathan Epstein, Tod Randolph and Lauren Murphy
Directed by Laura Margolis and John Sowle
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Marriage is harder than teaching ducks to dance."
Seven new plays by seven authors highlight the fall season with a production at Stageworks Hudson in Hudson, New York. A superb cast of four players take on the challenges of multiple roles in a single evening, some as disparate as Mary Todd Lincoln and Ginny, an office worker in New York in free fall from a damaged building. Under the guiding hands of two expert directors this small gang of players evolves smoothly from one unique character to another in the space of time it takes to alter a set, usually less than a minute and a half. By the time you're through with the evening's entertainment you have discovered a wonder world of characters and situations that will live with you for quite a while.
For instance Daniel Talbott's curtain raiser, "Sometimes After Dinner" features a naked Jonathan Epstein on a bench chatting about mundane things casually with a freakishly weird girl who sometimes speaks in non-sequitors, played by Lauren Murphy. This is followed by Fred Sahner's play "Final Moments" in which a not-so-grieving widow, played with wit and a lack of grace by Tod Randolph, antagonizes a young funeral director who is easily flustered, played by Dan Denaughty.
In "Mohammed and the Sleeping Cat" by David Zellnik Epstein and Fenaughty take on the roles of a gay couple coming to grips with their sleep-disordered relationship while Romulus Linney's dialogue "Two Whores" pits Randolph's Lincoln against Murphy's Sarah Bernhardt who meet on deck as their ship sails into New York Harbor.
"What We Thought" by Ellen Margolis takes Randolph and Epstein on a wild ride of memory and experience as their bodies plummet off an upper floor of the World Trade Center. "Grizzly Lake Duet" allows Murphy and Fenaughty to assault one another in Steve Schmitt's fascinating play about kids who call each other's bluffs and the evening comes to an end after Alan Gelb's play "Processional" which takes apart the family dynamic at a college graduation ceremony.
This group of new plays by writers both familiar and new is a diverse showcase for the talents of actors and directors alike. John Sowle has the Talbott, Zellnik and Margolis plays while the other four are directed by the company's Artistic Director Laura Margolis. Sowle is at his best in the subtleties of the show's opening number and it's third piece about the gay couple. In both cases he handles delicate situations with an even hand and a keen eye for gestures. His actors deliver on the punches and maximize the impressions that can be made through little movement and eye changes, gestures and looks. In his second half opener, about the two people falling through space, he accommodates the playwrights intention with the aid of human marionettes, played in the oriental style. It is a fascinating play to watch, even as it enthralls the mind with its statements of indifference, interest, and love.
Margolis does some of her best work with "Two Whores." Here women of two different types and classes vie for most interesting person without ever giving up their trump cards. Here are two people who cannot be friends and yet, as they reveal more of themselves to one another Margolis has them connect physically in ways that are surprisingly intimate for women who have restraints and constraints imposed upon them. Her work on the final play of the evening provides much needed high comic relief with low comedy counterpoints. Her timing of movement and mime really make this play the joy it is as all four actors come together for the only time in the evening.
The malleable space into which the company puts all of this is designed by Phil Elman with perfect costumes created by Robert Anton who is to be commended for his period costumes as well as his contemporary ones. Dan Winters lighting design is perfect for each play and Ben Heyman does nice work with his sound plots.
To watch the work of new playwrights, and old faithfuls as well, is a delectable treat provided yearly by Stageworks Hudson. This year's offerings are like chocolate to the soul: they have heat, heart and humanity served up with a creamy filling.
Play By Play Blue Moons plays through October 10 at Stageworks Hudson, located at 41-A Cross Street, Hudson, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-822-9667.
“Blue Moon” an engaging event
Saturday, October 2, 2010
By Carol King
HUDSON - That classy little outfit, Stageworks/Hudson, holds an annual festival of new one-act, theme-based plays, and this year's offering is as good as it gets.
“Play by Play Blue Moons” has produced seven 15-minute plays, and each, like the song “Blue Moon,” is, in its way, a love story. Some are tender, as “Two Whores” by Romulus Linney, some are dramatic, as “What We Thought” by Ellen Margolis, but all are memorable.
The plays are acted by four competent actors, Jonathan Epstein, Dan Fenaughty, Lauren Murphy and Tod Randolph, each playing a variety of diverse roles. The scenes are set nearly seamlessly by stage manager Jennifer Schilansky and her crew and the production values this year are superlative. Scenic design (Phil Elman), lighting (Dan Winters), sound (Ben Heyman) and costumes (Robert Anton) all combine to create a most inviting and entertaining evening.
Artistic director Laura Margolis has done impeccable work in organizing the plays for fullest enjoyment by the audience.
“Sometimes After Dinner,” by Daniel Talbott, is an absurdist riff, acted by Epstein and Murphy, on relationships, dreams, memories and personalities and sets the tone for the evening. The piece mirrors the masks of comedy and tragedy that signify all that is “The Theater.” “Final Moments,” written by Fred Sahner, introduces the finely talented Tod Randolph. Her last words to her dead husband's ashes are both touching and true. If he does get to heaven, she tells him vehemently, “Stay off my cloud.” Yet as she holds the urn in preparation for the final service, the love she feels for him becomes apparent.
“Mohammed and the Sleeping Cat,” by David Zellnik, for all its wordiness, is an engaging piece of theater that examines the possible longtime companionship of a mature, reality-based Max (Epstein) and the young, welkin-eyed beauty Jonah (Fenaughty). . .
“What We Thought,” by Ellen Margolis, is a microcosmic, masterfully conceived peek into the horrors of 9/11. “Grizzly Lake Duet,” by Steve Schmitt, chronicles the building of a relationship between two teenagers. It is both touching and tender and beautifully acted by Murphy and Fenaughty. “Processional,” written by Alan Gelb, teams the four actors at a college graduation. Fine ensemble work is displayed here as well as wonderfully definitive solo performances. It rounds out the evening perfectly.
PLAY BY PLAY Blue Moons
By Charles Kondek
PLAY BY PLAY: Blue Moons
Continuing a 14 year tradition, Stageworks/Hudson is again presenting its year-end festival of new plays. This time 7 one-acts under the descriptive title: ‘Blue Moons, that once in a lifetime time when unexpected events change the course of the rest of your life, are being expertly produced and creatively directed and acted. They make an interesting mixture, with different shapes, sizes and styles-from two pot-smoking teen-age musicians (a frenetic, antic “Grizzly Lake Duet,” by Steve Schmitt) to a shipboard conversation between famed actress Sarah Bernhardt and Mary Todd Lincoln (an introspective, serene, “Two Whores,” by Romulus Linney). The plays deal with the ‘alone-ness' which many people occasionally feel to varying degrees, and how that feeling is dealt with, gotten over, eased.
The cast of this ambitious undertaking couldn't be bettered, beginning with seasoned performers and Shakespeare & Company and Berkshire Theater veterans Jonathan Epstein and Tod Randolph. They are inspired artists.
Completing the cast are the delightful Lauren Murphy and he-of-honest earnestness, Dan Fenaughty. The four deliver an enormous range of finely etched characterizations filled with conflicting emotions and varied behavior.
All told, these actors play 17 roles, but there are only 16 costumes, all ably designed by Robert Anton.
“Sometimes After Dinner,” by Daniel Talbot,” is the tender encounter of two people on a park bench, one of whom is naked, with a boom box across his lap, who strike a conversation about their love of popular music and rock stars. “Final Moments,” by Fred Sahner, is the funny near-monologue of a women talking to the urn containing the ashes of her recently deceased husband. She thinks. In “Mohammed and the Sleeping Cat,” by David Zelnick, a man nostalgically writes a letter to a former lover while his current partner naps beside him. “What We Thought,” by Ellen Margolis, concerns two people who have eyed each other for over a year as they rode the elevator to work, who, because of a horrific incident decide to speak to each other. A divorced couple, in, “Processional,” by Alan Gelb, attend the graduation from college of their son, and despite their constant good-humored bickering manage a moment of real, warm affection. All these plays are literate, bordering on the poetic, effective and thoroughly engaging.
These scripts have been directed by Stageworks/Hudson artistic director Margolis and John Sowle.
The production, which I highly encouraged you to see, runs through October 10, playing at the Cross Street in Hudson and tickets can be had by calling the box office at 518-822-9667.