Play by Play: Opposites.
by Play: Opposites
Jesse Waldinger, James Farrell, Carol Flint, Jenny Lyn Bader,
Lucile Lichtblau, Michael Whistler, Lori Goodman, Robert Kerr,
and Peter Hays; directed by Billy Kimmel or Laura Margolis
StageWorks/Hudson at 440 Upstairs at Proctors, through Oct.
The annual collection of one-act plays presented by StageWorks/Hudson
is bookended this year by two scenes of legal negotiations,
which is appropriate for this year’s theme, “opposites.” Old
Prices, a smart 10-minute play centering on historical
acting greats, and Love in Litigation, a silly 13-minute
play concerning lawyers Ms. Cupid and Mr. Cupid hammering
out the contract for romance between the party of the first
part and the party of the second part, run the gamut of what’s
best and worst about the format. Such extremes usually have
been the strength of the series; anyone can take 10 minutes
of bad, when the possibility of something good might be moments
away. It’s when Play by Play forgoes the extremes and
meanders in the mediocre that the chairs get stiffer, the
sightlines get tighter, and 10 minutes upstairs at Proctors
seems more like a morning in a dentist’s waiting room.
But the extremes have it this year, mostly. Old Prices
by Jesse Waldinger is brilliantly directed by Billy Kimmel:
three 8-foot tall white screens staggered upstage, backlit
so that when the legendary actor Mr. Kemble (David Tass channeling
the spirit of a master thespian) plays Shakespeare’s legendary
Coriolanus at the legendary theater Covent Garden, we see
his outsized shadow center stage first, his gestures huge,
his voice thunderous as it echoes to backstage. Unfortunately,
the rowdy theatergoers play upset Roman mob to Mr. Kemble’s
more-than-usually-inspired arrogance as the Roman patrician.
Legendary actress Mrs. Siddons (the marvelous Eileen Schuyler)
sits disdainfully downright on a stone bench, reacting to
the catcalls, whistles, epithets, and objects hurled at Mr.
Kemble without uttering a word.
The words soon come as the scene plays out when the mouthpiece
of the audience’s outrage, Fanny (the vivacious Myleah Misenhimer),
arrives unexpectedly. Playing a theatrical cliché—the spurned
younger lover of the theater’s star—Fanny bravely broaches
the most dangerous topic for any play staged in the Proctors
complex: ticket prices and union actors. The crowd wants the
older prices back; Mr. Kemble had raised them to fund the
renovation of Covent Garden. The crowd wants an Italian import
replaced with homegrown talent; Mr. Kemble brought in the
lovely Italian soprano both for publicity and a more personal
reason, but the soprano isn’t talented and doesn’t justify
the cost economically or aesthetically passed. It’s a stunning
moment given Proctors habit of offering “Broadway” shows at
Broadway ticket prices by un-Broadway producers with less-than-Broadway
stagecraft and non-Equity performers. Old Prices, though
set in 1808, shows that some issues are au courant 200 years
Equally memorable are Valentine’s Play by Jenny Lyn
Bader and Michael Whitler’s I’m Barbara Eden. The 12-minute
Valentine’s Play centers on the 20-something opposites
Bob (Tass channeling his inner frat boy) and Kelly (Misenhimer
playing a 2008 version of Fanny) in their apartment on Valentine’s
Day: He’s sweating over a video game while she’s dressed in
a tight red dress trying to entice him to unwrap his present.
The joke mainly rests in Bob’s orgasmic responses to the game—“That’s
what I’m talkin’ bout,” and “oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah”—and
Kelly’s declaration that “I am very low-maintenance” while
buying her own presents.
Barbara Eden delights as an eight-minute monologue by
“the Man,” played by a committed Eddie Allen; despite his
maturity, he is quite believable channeling memories of innocently
cross-dressing with his 6-year-old friend Richard. The pair
initially entertain “the Man’s” mother, but as they continue
their interest in makeup, jewelry, and playing at archetypal
1960s feminine behavior, his parents introduce him to guilt,
shame and finally, public humiliation. It’s both very funny
and moving without being pretentious.