April DC Report Topics
by Les Gutman
This past Winter, we enthusiastically reviewed Woolly Mammoth's world premiere production of The Gene Pool (linked below). Well, it's Spring: another season, another world premiere. This one's no fossil either.
Playwright Regina Porter teaches dramatic writing at NYU. I wish there were a way she could teach others to do what she has done in this play: write clear, clean yet incredibly rich dialogue that sustains an interesting story, avoids cliché and leaves the audience with plenty to think about.
Review: Man, Woman, Dinosaur
Verve Willows (Rebecca Rice) is a wheel-chair bound widow who lives with her grown son, Toochie (Kevin Jiggetts). Her life consists mostly of complaining, criticizing Toochie, drinking and looking out the window to keep up with the goings-on at the next-door neighbor's. (There is, as it happens, quite a lot going on there -- a husband who beats his wife and a wife who runs around the yard in mismatched underwear, the latter seemingly as grievous an offense as the former in this neighborhood). Toochie runs the business his father started, selling dinosaur models he makes in an upstairs workshop. He misses his father greatly, and keeps a special shelf of "Sir's" dinosaurs. He also seems to be missing something else in his life.
Things at the Willows residence change when Verve hires Bernadette (Caroline Clay) as live-in help. In addition to helping Verve, it doesn't take long for Toochie and Bernadette to help each other in ways Verve perhaps had not contemplated. Things change yet again when Toochie returns from a sales trip with a drunk gravedigger, Alan Marsh (Vincent Brown), and his nine year old son (Daniel Lee Robertson) in tow. Bernadette, who had been particularly protective of her privacy all along, turns out to be Mrs. Alan Marsh.
Several things conspire to make this play particular appealing. Regina Porter blends the unusual and the surprising with the universal in a way that renders it fresh at the same time it is accessible and natural. Her words express common notions, but in unexpected language. Characters are developed fully enough to provide food for thought, but there are few unnecessary tangents.
Howard Shalwitz's sensitive direction maintains the tightness and clarity of Porter's work throughout. He never trivializes the subject matter, but he keeps it entertaining and fun. He allows pain to resonate in the humor, and vice versa. Neither overshadows.
The acting is particularly outstanding. Rice is terrific as the unhappy, difficult mother. She's also a keen observer, even in her muddled state. She relishes her outrageousness. Jiggetts conveys Toochie's burdens and his joys, his tentativeness and his subtlety. Clay is excellent as the enigmatic Bernadette reflecting both despair and an inner strength, and Brown is especially convincing as her luckless but not totally meritless husband.
Lewis Folden designed sets that are very functional and yet playfully abstract. They work perfectly in the space.
This play is good enough that its few weaknesses stand out blatantly. The three most significant hangnails are:
A bit disappointing, but not enough to alter the fact that this is a fine piece of theater, and certainly not enough to weaken my anxious anticipation of the next volley from this bright encouraging force among young up-and-coming playwrights.
- the reference, in the first act, to the source of Verve's disability. It's one of the few unneeded and complicating elements in an otherwise remarkably well-constructed first act.
- two excessive scenes of Toochie selling his wares. Although these scenes are important for showing Toochie's abilitites and enthusiasm, they are filled with redundant jokes involving gimmicks and gadgets Toochie has made with his dinosaurs to increase sales.
- the convenient resolution at the end of the second act. It feeds a general sense that the first act is the stronger and tighter of the two. After an hour and forty-five minutes of avoiding glibness and easy answers, Porter rushes everyone off the stage with a solution that, as sensible and even believable as it may be, feels forced.
MAN, WOMAN, DINOSAUR
by Regina Porter
starring Rebecca Rice, Kevin Jiggetts, Caroline Clay, Vincent Brown and Daniel Lee Robertson III
Directed by Howard Shalwitz
Sets: Lewis Folden
Costumes: Robin Stapley
Lighting: Lisa Ogonowski
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 1401 Church Street NW (202) 393-3939
March 23 - April 19, 1998
Reviewed by Les Gutman
Links to Web Pages Mentioned in this Report CurtainUp's review of The Gene Pool
©April 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
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