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A CurtainUp Review
Navy Pier

by Ariana Mufson

Every morning the fog rolls in from the ocean. Right before dawn. Like clockwork. I love the way it ... consumes everything. Unstoppable. Enveloping everything in its path. It's hypnotic. One minute, a building or a ... landmark is there, the next minute, gone.
--- Martin, describing San Francisco

Navy Pier
The Cast of Navy Pier
VS. Theatre Company may be relatively new (founded in 2003) but it has produced a gem with the west coast premiere of Navy Pier by John Corwin. Not only has Howard Fine showcased his directing ability but he has gathered a stellar ensemble to breathe life into Corwin's well written and intricately structured show.

The play revolves around two college buddies: the charismatic and cocky Kurt (Joseph Sanfelippo, who avoids alienating the audience with his strong and believable performance) and Martin (stand out Johnny Clark, who imbues Martin with endearing humility and insecurity). Both are English majors and aspiring writers in Chicago. Filling out the cast are Jessica Collins, who brings poise and grace to the magnetic, painter Iris and Kimberly-Rose Wolter, who delivers warmth and intelligence to art historian Liv.

These characters slowly reveal their connections to one another, telling us their stories in a series of monologues and flashbacks. For some reason, Kurt and Martin have ended their friendship. Kurt has achieved success as a writer in New York, after winning a competition. He has also lived with Iris, who has become an accomplished painter. Meanwhile, Martin has moved to San Francisco. He is without the inspiration to write, until meeting Liv. As the show progresses we also learn that Iris used to live with Martin.

As we learn more and more, we wonder why Kurt has succeeded as a writer while the more talented Martin has not. We also wonder why Iris would leave the appealing Martin to be with Kurt. Each actor presents his/her side so convincingly that it's hard to determine the truth, especially as the characters talk directly to us and only occasionally to each other. The fact that we become emotionally attached to all four is a testament to the acting and directing. The audience needs to be actively engaged; they must not only listen but try to determine how the events of the show have unfolded--and why.

The cast has mastered the unusual repartee, filled with asides and spoken in the past tense. They breeze through lengthy monologues, keeping the show fast paced so that it builds instead of being weighed down by all the talk. Even a simple game of air hockey between Iris and Kurt reveals how their chemistry builds. As Kurt and Iris look at each other, while speaking directly to us, we see why Iris is so tempted by her lover's best friend. Corwin's play doesn't have a black or white, a right or wrong choice for Iris-or the other characters in the show.

The staging and set perfectly mirror this theme, of the gray area that exists in everyday life. The actors are placed at the four corners of the stage, near the audience, watching one another and interjecting their own opinions when they feel they must clarify the truth. The set consists of a square cushion center stage, allowing the actors to create a bar stool, a chair in a coffee shop, or an air hockey table. Like that pillow, everything is transient, whether it be friendship, love, or even life.

Because the actors do so well with the transitions between speaking to us and then each other, the director's occasional use of voiceovers does not mesh with the overall tone of the show. It would have been far more effective to allow the actors to speak their lines, as they do throughout. A voice-over at the final moment removes us from what should have been an intimate monologue. Still, there is more to admire here than to criticize.

Navy Pier showcases both fine acting and direction, and is an exceptional choice for Victory Theatre Center's intimate space. Although a few possible meanings of the elusive title are revealed, this is not a show with concrete answers, allowing it to not only entertain, but inspire discussion. Hopefully, this young company will continue to deliver strong and thought provoking work in future productions.

Playwright: John Corwin
Director: Howard Fine
Cast: Johnny Clark, Jessica Collins, Joseph Sanfelippo and Kimberly-Rose Wolter (character)
Set Design: John G. Williams
Lighting Design: Erin M. Hearne
Sound Design: Ron Klier
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission
Dates: From 6/11/05 to 7/10/05
Victory Theatre Center, 3324 West Victory Blvd. Burbank, CA 91505
Tickets: $20 Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on Sunday, June 12, 2005.

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