The second series in The Changing Scene's annual festival of new plays called "Summerplay" opened last weekend with four short pieces as different from one another as fruit, vegetables, rocks and rice. Some of it is digestible, some of it isn't. But each play gets a full-bodied production, intelligent directing and competent-to-fine acting dished up in a user-friendly set and lighting design.
Repetition, by Jefferson David Arca, is an almost delightful, very often clever piece about choosing the safe but routine over the exciting but dangerous adventure. Two women dressed in matching overalls sit in a factory and punch out something over and over again. Sean meditates aloud on the word "repetition," speculating that repetition is the fabric of life. Shawn joins in with insights about the revolving days and nights, and then somehow Sean oozes out of her seat, amoebalike, and points out who "has it good": amoebae, talk-show hosts and rich Japa-nese businessmen--presumably because their lives are the most repetitious. But even trapped in routine, there is light (escape) available, if only the individual will be brave. When the opportunity to seek change offers itself, Shawn tries but fails to embark on the adventure, while Sean returns to her machine without even trying. It all gets a bit repetitious after a while, but hey, that's the point.
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Rachel Shwayder as Sean is such an inventive, expressive actress that even under the odd constraints of an absurdist knockoff like this, she is intensely involving. Laura Booze gives Shawn a fragile quality right for the part, and the two women work well together.
The Secret Plays, by Rob Handel, takes up the murky sexual proclivities of Lewis Carroll and his adoration of the little-girl heroine of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Interwoven through this story is another sexual tale that seems to underscore what Carroll did not do--he never molested children, though he is believed to have been a pedophile by inclination. Disturbing and difficult, the play does approximate the mental spiral of darker sexual impulses in poetic flights. But its surreal, mythic themes concerning sex and the traps of the flesh (like so many pink, squirmy worms) is so private, it's hard to follow and, finally, to relate to. Yet Gregory B. McKnight, Cynthia Voigt, Todd Miller and, especially, Amber Leigh Florest bring life, intelligence and sincerity to their roles. And the whole piece cannot be lightly dismissed, either.
The Visitation, by Tyler Smith, is a memory play in which a forty-year-old man remembers his first love and her suicide at eighteen. His remorse in not having been able to save her is palpable but misplaced. To anyone who has ever dealt with the problem of teenage mental breakdown, it's clear that the playwright simply doesn't ever come to terms with the child's real needs. It's too easy to place blame or feel pity or regret. What is really needed to lift a story like this one out of bathos and into art is some genuine insight about what would have saved her--or even what really killed her. The language is sometimes overblown and sometimes beautiful, but this play feels much more like a work in progress than the others.
The final play of the evening may be the simplest and most accessible, but it does succeed completely. La Femme de Paris, by Ken Crost, concerns a young American who has arrived in Paris for the first time and has been stood up by his girlfriend. Because he speaks no French, he can't order anything to eat. When a French woman approaches him for a light, invites herself to his table and eventually orders the food he so desperately needs, the two strike up a truly bizarre and amusing conversation. The short piece is all about frustration in love, loneliness, French sophistication and Yankee naivete. But its gentle, kindly take on gender differences and mannerisms is charming, well-written and even a tad wise. Nik Zender is adorable as the brash, self-effacing American, and Meghan Marx appropriately inscrutable and sly as Odile.