As you watch Whiteline Productions' presentation of An Evening of Three One-Act Plays by Luigi Pirandello, it becomes increasingly clear just why the Pirandello Repertory Theater (and its cash-cow second-stage cabaret, the Laugh-a-Minute Luigi Comedy Club) has yet to take hold in Denver. Of course, lack of popular demand has also curtailed any immediate plans to erect other temples of avant-garde drama such as the Artaud Dinner Theater, TheatreStrindberg! or the Pinter (Pause) Playhouse.
It's not so much that American audiences are unable to identify with the iconoclastic methods of certain angst-ridden European playwrights. After all, the endlessly circular debate about truth and illusion isn't exactly foreign currency in a country that's still trying to determine whether pro wrestling matches and Springer-style brawls are fake. No, the reason Whiteline's effort at the LIDA Project Experimental Theatre falls short is that, as in most experimental productions these days, the company mistakenly employs a two-dimensional, superficial approach in its attempt to articulate complicated, provocative concepts.
Take, for instance, the opening moments of The Vise, Pirandello's 35-minute drama about an unfaithful wife, her conniving boyfriend and her all-too-suspecting husband. In typical Pirandellian fashion, the drama begins with a late point of attack as Guilia Fabbri (Karin Mirick) and Antonio Serra (Mark Jude Moran) discuss how to conceal their relationship from Andrea Fabbri (Michael A. Parker), whom they believe has knowledge of their illicit liaison. A maid, Anna, briefly enters the room, and then nonchalantly exits--all the while paying no mind whatsoever to the double-dealing couple's agitated state, even when their backs are turned. Nor do the unhappy lovers alter their behavior in her presence when Anna averts her gaze from them. Both Mirick and Moran deliver much of their dialogue in quavering voices while indiscriminately pacing back and forth and, occasionally, staring at the floor. What's more, Moran's distracting New York accent (or is it supposed to be Italian?) creeps into the delivery of a few of his lines. Thus, "At least, that's how it seemed to me" becomes "A lease datsow iseem da me." As a result, it's difficult to focus on the intricacies and implications of a turn-of-the-century love triangle when the actors' portraits are obtuse, two-dimensional and full of anachronisms. To be sure, Parker's portrayal lends some much-needed mystery and menace to the situation, but by the time his character finally enters the fray, director Angela Foster's production has strayed considerably off course.
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Things brighten somewhat during the evening's second selection, The Man With a Flower in His Mouth, also directed by Foster. Written some seventy years before the advent of Seinfeld, the brief yet poignant story concerns a Man (Parker) and a Commuter (Randall Diamon) who discover that the meaning of life can be found in a healthy appreciation of its minutiae. To a pleasant musical accompaniment by classical guitarist Nessa Marquez, the unlikely pair strikes up a casual conversation that eventually attains poetic heights when Parker declares, "We all feel this terrible thirst for life, but we don't know what it consists of." Though the actors' dialogue is sometimes too deliberately paced, this twenty-minute playlet nonetheless represents the Sicilian dramatist at his most philosophically intriguing.
Unfortunately, that's much more than can be said for the evening's final offering, Chee Chee, an overwrought, thirty-minute bore ineptly directed by Stanley Li. The plot, which concerns a financial sting, is simple, and both Diamon and veteran actress Karen Erickson are, for the most part, engaging enough. But in his portrayal of the title character, actor Christian Mast screams, bellows and mugs his way through the part to the point that the play quickly becomes an excruciating chore to be endured instead of a thought-provoking look at the consequences of life's little lies. Which serves as yet another reminder that plans for the Pirandello Rep will likely remain, however providentially, very much on hold.
An Evening of Three One-Act Plays by Luigi Pirandello, presented by Whiteline Productions through November 18 at the LIDA Project Experimental Theatre, 80 South Cherokee Street, 303-282-0466.