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Making magic: (l-r) Swan and Raposo in How to Score.

Smorgasbord

 

By James Yeara

Play by Play: Choices!?

By Rich Orloff, James Farrell, Steve Totland, Michel Wallerstein, Lucile Kichtblau, Gary Garison, Tom Coash and Joel B. Jones; directed by Kevin Doolen and Laura Margolis

StageWorks/Hudson, Through June 4

Karl Wallenda once said, “Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting.”

In Thin Air, the penultimate play in this year’s Play by Play: Choices!?, Bird (Jacqueline Raposo) stands downstage center on a 12-inch-high platform. She’s wearing those loose “perfect for yoga” pants and top combos that give the impression of movement when the person is stock-still. The acrobat Bird’s feet are aflutter, however, like a little kid waiting in line for ice cream, and she is all smiles and giggles; if you could coax a chickadee to act, it would imitate Raposo. What follows is a 13-minute monologue of theatrical magic, as smartly crafted a play as you’re likely to see all season and as bravely and exactly acted. Raposo reveals Bird second by second onstage, and the journey Bird contemplates standing on one end of the high wire is far longer, higher, and tougher than the “5/8-inch wire 60 feet in the air.” Watching the shifts, feints, confessions, longings, fears, wit, triumph, and sheer will of both actress and character as they meld is breathtaking.

“Isn’t that what life is all about, living without a net?” she begins, and it’s not until 12 minutes later, when Bird’s life is improbably revealed in exact and specific events, when the laughter of Thin Air dissolves into tears. If you could focus on something other than Raposo’s Bird, you could hear the audience gasp.

“Funambulate” means to dance on a rope, and it is the best verb to describe how Raposo creates on a stage. Thin Air is for anyone who loves theater.

At the opposite end of the wire is The Wedding Story, for anyone who likes their playgoing experience to be exactly like watching TV. Cliché-driven, with caricatures ripped off from the superior animated Fox show King of the Hill, Lucile Lichtblau’s 24-minute one-act seems much longer. It is like those barely functional improv groups using the basic tools of humor: random insertions of vulgarities.

Throwing in references to hotel “twat cream” and lines such as “You’d be amazed how many brides get nervous piss all over their dresses” are like showing ass cracks and tossing off fart jokes. Frat boys will laugh at any embarrassment, and The Wedding Story is full of embarrassment, lacking in the wit of the evening’s better choices.

In short, StageWorks/Hudson’s annual collection of new one acts is a treat akin to “Bernie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans”: there’s something for every taste bud, boorish or refined. The eight plays here are aided immeasurably by the four-person cast (Raposo, Christopher Swan, Joe Quandt and the intrepid Eileen Schuyler), who create engaging characters in these barest-of-bone productions.

There are plenty of tasty bits in Choices!?, including the opening How to Score by Rich Orloff, featuring the vivacious Raposo and the eager Swan as that rarity of theatrical rarities, a husband and wife who actually love each other faithfully and yet are still interesting; James Farrell’s moving A Believer in Those Things Which Cannot Be Proven to Be True, strengthened by Schuyler’s benchmark believability as a grieving mother returning from a military funeral, and the surprising Quandt, who matches Schuyler’s art without pretense or posturing; and the final one-act, Joel B. Jones’ The Answer Man, which takes a jokey scenario and makes it sublime: A nervous man walks into a bar and meets a literally know-it-all bartender (Swan). Swan’s answer man could have been an annoying pretense, but instead he creates a character that you’d actually like to meet. It’s the sort of sound acting that keeps Play by Play: Choices!? from disappearing into thin air.


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