nytheatre.com review by Travis Richards
February 14, 2009
Okay, so the seeming serendipity of me a seeing a series of one act plays about loneliness, by myself, on Valentine's Day, didn't hit me until I went home to write this review in my cold empty apartment. I'm trying to decide if I was the perfect audience member or the worst. Regardless, I enjoyed Oberon Theatre Ensemble's presentation of American Rapture. Though some of the pieces are clearly stronger than others, overall the cast and crew have put together an enjoyable evening of theatre.
The first play of the evening, Spin Cycle (written, like all the plays except the last one, by Alex Dinelaris), takes on the constant struggle between liberty and justice in America. Accordingly the play includes: police brutality, a self-righteous lawyer, a pompous talk show host, and the rights of a guy everyone knows is guilty. Overall the play seems mechanical. The alleged criminal, the talk show host, and the attorney all are a bit contrived. Each of the three characters lacks the depth necessary to paint a truthful story. The bright spot of play is William Laney's performance of the cop. Laney brings a mixture of humor and menace to the character that at times carries the play.
The second play, Blind Date (Voices), is quite droll (yes I'm a fan of Family Guy) and my favorite of the evening. The play is about a blind date between Jeffrey and Kristen. Each of the characters has a shadow character that espouses their respective subconscious thoughts. The audience hears two different takes on the same conversation: what the polite "real" character actually says, along with the unfiltered subconscious assessment of the situation. The writing and the directing of this piece are snappy and dead-on. Donovan Patton does an especially good job in crafting a meek, mild-mannered character, which plays in perfect contrast to Max Darwin's wonderfully crafted cynical subconscious. The play has a good pace and leaves the audience continually laughing.
The next play, Rain (Ghosts), tells a story of Amanda, played by Jane Cortney, who is reluctantly attending her 10-year high school reunion. The story is touching at points, especially where Amanda is comforted by her former classmate Fitz, played by Max Darwin. The play moves smoothly up until the point where the Amanda breaks down in tears. This moment does not feel earned and is therefore too pronounced to be effective. But for that moment, Cortney and Darwin do a good job in tenderly conveying the awkwardness of the situation.
The fourth play, Juggling Jacqueline (Memories), tells the story of Jack, who is visited by the memory of his mother during a therapy session. The humor in this play often goes for the easy laugh. While this detracts from the play's momentum, the piece nonetheless creates genuinely felt moments between Jack and the memory of his mother.
Forgiven is the most moving piece of the night. It tells the story of a prostitute who goes to confession for the first time in 18 years. Jane Cortney does a terrific job of dynamically bringing the character of Molly to life. The writing is poignant, provocative, and effective in creating empathy for a woman who clearly regrets many decisions she has made in her life. Of all the moments of the evening, Molly's regrets concerning her son affected me the most.
The evening concludes with Hello Out There, by William Saroyan. Dianna Martin steals the show with her innocent, simplistic, and humorous portrayal of a girl who falls in love with an alleged rapist. Martin pulls you in the instant you hear her voice. Though I couldn't help thinking that she used Elly May from The Beverly Hillbillies as inspiration for her character, her choices work very well. Overall the play is a solid piece and a good way to wrap up the evening.
As a whole the pieces work well together, which is a credit to Alex Dinelaris, who was also director for all the plays. I did not notice Dinelaris's direction during the plays, which means he did his job well.
In a society of video games, 15-second commercials, and fast food restaurants, a series of short plays may very well be the future of theatre. It is obviously a challenge for any writer and director to effectively convey stories in such a concise format. While not always 100% effective, American Rapture offers an evening of entertainment worth the price of admission.