Sometimes, just being familiar with and trusting the previous body of work by a good writer and director will instill enough trust to warrant taking a chance on an unknown theater piece. That’s stepping out on faith, and hopefully you won’t take a dunking as a reward, but you never know. In the case of The Mating of Angela Weiss by Renee Calarco and directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick, it was a slam dunking good time.
Renee Calarco’s Mating is a sparkling little gem that weaves various storylines together in a funny tapestry of life, or more precisely, Angela’s life, with ruminations about motherhood, mothering, and nurturing, even panda style. The actors are top-flight, but I’ll get to that later. First and foremost, it’s the play and the writing that zing with intriguing observations, criss-crossing time to cover a surprising number of issues with integrity and humor.
Angela is a studious and serious animal scientist preparing to give her first important presentation and is coached to get it just right. Only later do we learn that all her meticulous preparation was to address middle-school kids prone to asking off the chart questions about the teacher instead of the animals. It is while being subjected to a barrage of unexpected, adolescent questions that Angela reveals her travel plans to visit China, the land of her heritage. Although hints popped up in early scenes about her having been adopted, finally getting her to admit plans to travel and find her birth-mother was an intriguing revelation that helped spin the tale into even more fascinating territory, especially with the various scenes involving Angela’s interactions with her devoted and patient adoptive mom.
All the actors are noteworthy, with special nods to Yasmin Tuazon who carries the show on her constantly changing shoulders as she transitions into an inquisitive 10-year old, a moody teen, wondering young adult, dutiful daughter, and cautious young woman finding her way in love. Tuazon portrays all these aspects of life with clear-eyed pragmatism and determination. Frederick’s fun-loving direction tackles both hilarious and somber moments with zeal, while Barbara Papendorp and Francisco Reinoso provide solid support in a range of parts. Their handling of the “panda” scenes alone is worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Her Love Was Vertigo by Estep Nagy, a Source commissioned work. The premise is a heist or scam in the making, with all the characters involved in aspects of duping or being duped, but the tale is so convoluted, with guns waving, fair damsels enticing, and basic carousing going on in endless scenes (I stopped counting at 12), that by the time of the big unveiling of the scam, the audience is too worn down to try to figure it all out, or give a care. The writing would be intriguing, if there wasn’t so much of it trapped in meandering monologues. Many of the story lines come from out of nowhere and seem to bounce around without landing on secure ground. That’s what’s missing. The play is neither grounded nor rooted in a theatrical base to help clarify who the characters are, what they want and why they want it, or even establish basic facts of what’s happening. And it’s unfortunate, because there are some golden nuggets of expressions and observations, but they’re buried under all the text.
Delaney Williams who is probably best known for his work in HBO’s “The Wire” and his work at Arena Stage, plays the main character, a free-wheeling and dealing financial whiz who lives and breathes for the next big heist, no matter how potentially shady. With his easy-going “everyman” appeal and great timing, Williams helps provide solid footing as the tale shifts from mystery, to drama, to comedy, to sexual intrigue, but unfortunately, he has a tendency to mumble some of the delivery which exacerbated the confusion in the already dense storyline.
Daniel Eichner plays a would-be assassin on a mission to kill his rival who expressed interest in Annabel (Annie Grier) , everybody’s equal opportunity love interest. Eichner storms onto the set with an effective bravado and then morphs into an angst-ridden almost whimpering accomplice counterpart as more of the story is revealed. Unfortunately, Eichner ends up stuck in reactive mode for much of the time, as does Kimberly Schraf who brings an edgy and intelligent, Manchurian Candidate-style control to her scenes. Still there’s only so much she can do as a “closer” to tie up all the loose ends. An overlooked treat and interesting twist by director David Dower, doing what he can to hack through the verbiage, is the expanded role of the narrator, the always reliable Lee Liebeskind who participates in some of the final scenes as onlooker and minor character.
Source brought New York playwright Nagy back after his successful 10-minute play, A Taste of Heaven, was a hit at last year’s festival, and commissioned this longer piece which obviously has plenty of potential but needs dramaturgy and work to carve out a terrific story.
Young poets from Pages and Da Wizard of Da Movement Poetz served as energetic Masters of Ceremony, adding a fresh young flava to the event, and ratcheted up the energy level, in the beginning and after intermission, but by the end of the show, all we wanted to see was the door.
The Mating of Angela Weiss
Written by Renee Calarco
Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick
Her Love Was Vertigo
Written by Estep Nagy
Directed by David Dower
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 2:30 hours w/ one intermission
The Source Festival continues through July 12. For the schedule, click here.