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Tomfoolery: Play by Play: Opposites.

Moment by Moment

By James Yeara

Play by Play: Opposites

By 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. 26

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 later.

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.

I’m 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.


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