nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
May 31, 2008
The suitably titled Coming Home, a new program of one-act plays by Living Image Arts, starts out as a strong and sharp evening of theatre but ultimately winds up losing its momentum.
We begin with Counting, directed by Christine Farrell and written by and starring Maria Gabriele, as Wanda. Wanda is in a holding cell waiting for her release from a six-year prison term for a hefty credit card fraud. Sharing the cell is Gianna, who is beginning the first day of her sentence for a similar but less extreme offense. We quickly learn that Wanda has developed a fascination with numbers as a way to feel in control of her uncontrollable circumstances on the inside. The women form a quick connection, share stories, and muse over the uncertainty about what comes next.
The premise alone of Counting is fascinating—two women facing opposite ends of a prison term and the discovery that their hurt, loss, and fears are more similar than either character would have thought. The dialogue sparkles, and is interwoven with humor and intelligence, especially in one section where Wanda creates a man out of a series of random numbers. Both actresses do fine work in this piece, thanks to their undoubted talents and Farrell's direction. Maria Elizabeth Ryan infuses Gianna with a sympathetic vulnerability, while Gabriele's energy and humor are captivating from the first line.
Sparrow, written by Linda Faigo-Hall, takes place in the Philippines and centers around two former childhood friends, Cris and Tina, meeting in a park after being estranged for ten years. The reunion starts off simmering with tension. Tina still holds on to anger and hurt at Cris for not following through with their plans to move to the United States together, and then becoming unreachable, leaving Tina to fend for herself in a strange country. Both women had difficult yet vastly different decades while apart, and it seems impossible to imagine that they were once so close. As the play progresses, however, Tina learns the reasons for Cris's betrayal and the two rediscover the connection they once had.
Ian Morgan's direction is solid and so are the performances. Luz Lor is an absolute delight as Tina. She is adorable, and her comic timing is dead-on. Although the play carries the darkest themes of the evening, the laughs are the most plentiful, thanks to Tina's Americanized scrappiness. And at the other end of the emotional spectrum, Cris is the hardened more grown-up of the two, yet Banaue Miclat's subtle and moving performance makes it clear that under this Sparrow's exterior is a lot of love, longing, and pain.
Both Sparrow and Counting, which together make up the first hour of the evening, could easily be extended into full-length plays. The writing is solid and interesting and the characters are distinct. As with any good play, after 20 minutes of each, I cared enough to want more and was disappointed to see them end.
Last Call on Bourbon Street by William K Powers, the longest play of the evening, encompassing the second act, touches on very important and necessary subject matter—the effects of Hurricane Katrina. We are introduced to a colorful group of locals—three prostitutes (including one who is a transsexual), an accountant who loves to party, and Benny, the lovable owner of the bar where everyone spends their evenings. An insurance adjuster, Mr. Herman, is coming to assess the damage of the bar. He is tough, and asks infuriating and accusatory questions, suggesting that everyone should move elsewhere because New Orleans will "never come back." The others share tales of their experience of the storm and of the days following when help was non-existent, in the hopes of convincing Mr. Herman to do the right thing and help rebuild their great city.
It is clear what Powers and director Alexa Polmer are trying to accomplish here, but although the stories of survival are moving, the play feels disjointed. While the play is entirely watchable, and there are some nice things happening, it never quite rises to the level of the other two plays. We should feel affection for these brassy characters and admire the bond they have formed over the years of Mardi Gras parties, good times, and weathering the storm together. But the actors hardly pull off the natural camaraderie that should exist here, so when one's turn comes to relive his or her story, it isn't as effective as it could be. Some group scenes feel awkward and many moments or bits that should be funny are not. Raushanah Simmons as Sally Ann is responsible for one of the few standout sequences with the tale of her family's rooftop nightmare.
Sarah B. Brown has created a simple but imaginative set that works very well for all three plays. Although the scene change in the middle of the first half could have been shorter, witnessing the impressive transformation from prison cell to park kept it from being much of a distraction. Scott Hay's lighting also sets the tone for each play, especially in the beautiful and well-timed symbolic darkening of the park at the end of Sparrow as the sun sets. Keith Rubenstein's choice of pre-show and intermission music is edgy and energetic. Overall, Coming Home is a worthwhile night of theatre.