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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

NVTA One Act Festival Night 2

By • Jun 21st, 2009 • Category: Reviews
NVTA One Act Festival
James Lee Community Center Theater, Falls Church, VA
$35 Festival Pass/$14 Session Pass
Playing through June 28th
Attended June 20th, 2009

This is part 2 of ShowBizRadio’s 5 part series covering this year’s NVTA One Act Festival.

The second night of the NVTA One-Act Play Festival showcased three exercises in backward glances. Two of the productions provided glimpses of fraught 20th Century decades. A third focused way, way back — the 12th Century BC, to be exact.

As it happens, the play with the archaic inspiration was the freshest of the three. The other two, though performed with devotion, were a bit musty.

Local writer Gregory Powell‘s witty new work Garden of Eden: The True Underdog Story of Peoplekind looks askance at the Old Testament creation story. The humor lies in the absurd inconsistencies of an allegedly loving and wise Deity comporting himself like a vain and tetchy tyrant given to scoldings, threats, double binds and tantrums.

Not that Powell offers fresh theological insights. His satire is based on the questions that have long troubled thoughtful Sunday School children. But Powell’s dialogue goes way beyond your standard head-scratching “how come . . . ?” Here, for example, is a take on The Maker’s hankering after praise and sacrifice: “God is good, God is great, He’ll kill you if you masturbate.” Adam, you see, understands praise as cheer leading and divine prohibitions as anti-sexual.

Fauquier Community Theatre director Lori Muhlstein has recruited able Eden performers and given them frisky comic leadings. God, as interpreted by Ted Ballard, likes to think of himself as loving and compassionate. But he’s impatient. And intolerant. And quick to anger — a real Old Testament God of wrath and vengeance. So the facade of love and compassion takes a beating. It frequently collapses.

As Adam and Eve, Brian and McCall Doyle are slow-but-sure learners. They are plucky and funny when it comes to calling an inconsistency an inconsistency and a contradiction a contradiction.

FCT’s Garden of Eden gives an old tale new luster.

The less lustrous backward glances are Capone, by Don Nigro, and On Tidy Endings by Harvey Fierstein. Both of these playwrights have respectable reputations. But these pieces are not among their finest.

Capone is a monologue. The notorious 1920s Chicago mobster is in decline, addled by syphilis. He reminisces. He recalls with unrelieved cynicism a life of violent crime and feverish corruption.

Prince William Little Theatre actor Jay Tilley, directed by Melissa Jo York-Tilley, accomplishes the remarkable feat of making a sensational life seem a bit on the humdrum side — one damn thing after another. If it isn’t a massacre, it’s a double-cross. If it isn’t sadistic revenge, it’s political extortion. Nearly everything is smeared over with amused contempt, though Nigro’s Capone does put in a few good words for sex with beautiful women. And he’s vaguely pleased with his son and his grandchildren.

The show’s peculiarity, however, is that shocking matters are so matter-of-fact.

Fierstein’s On Tidy Endings dramatizes an AIDS death. The recently deceased Colin left his wife and child in order to devote himself to sexual relations with men. By the time he met Mr. Right, Arthur, Colin was infected with AIDS. Following Colin’s death, Arthur and the former wife meet for a civilized division of property. A few sparks fly. A few tears are shed. The play was part of Fierstein’s 1987 Broadway flop Safe Sex.’

Castaways Repertory Theatre director Lanny Warkentien has a good feel for the material, allowing pauses in the dialogue for reactions. Emotions are given time to seethe and settle. Adrienne Showker as the former wife and Jake Higginbottom as Arthur are persuasive in their sorrow and anger, understanding and friendliness.

The trouble is that the AIDS theme is dated. It like the Joan of Arc theme. All kinds of great playwrights, ranging from Shakespeare to George Bernard Shaw and Bertolt Brecht, dramatized the mysticism, heroism and martyrdom of St. Joan. But as the Roman Catholic church has become less and less formidable, it’s persecution and subsequent canonization of Joan of Arc has accordingly become less fascinating. As AIDS has become less and less a fiendish villain (at least in the United States) the impressive array of formerly topical and timely AIDS plays has become less and less compelling.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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