An evening of new works, even by promising talent, can be hit or miss. In the case of Group G, the host and three productions all hit the jackpot. Host, Chris Bacon, who introduced each piece, pattered a wonderful Hip-Hop/rap song about roaches and living in Southwest DC, showed off excellent vocal percussion/beat-box skills and then sang a cute song about a computer user trying to highjack someone else’s wireless signal. He was as much a jackpot as the one acts and contributed to a wonderful night of theater for all.
The Armchair Traveler
By Libby Leonard, directed by Michael Baron, dramaturgy by Clementine Thomas
The evening started strong with this 50-minute piece from Libby Leonard. This is the story of a McDonald’s ad exec, Michael Heller, who is getting ready to travel to his family home to tie up the paperwork related to his mother’s recent death. Having been estranged from his mother and brother for several years, he found out about her death after the funeral by an obituary mailed to him by his brother. Before he leaves, the uptight workaholic is laid off and does not handle the situation well. In the airport, he meets a zen former workaholic who has managed to find a more peaceful way of life by not obsessing about work. On the plane, his seat-mate drags him unwillingly into conversation. Her tale about her mother who is ill gives him a different perspective on the issues he had with his own mother. When he shows up at his family home, he finds that his brother, Eliot, has lied and their mother is still living, albeit on a life-support system. Eliot manufactured the obituary to try to bring Michael back to the family. Eliot has had to quit his job to take care of their mother and needs Michael’s help as they are running out of money. The brothers argue but then begin to communicate for the first time in years as the piece ends.
The story arc is strong as are the performances of the cast. The play is full of witty lines including “…serving meals with the nutritional value of Agent Orange” and “genetically engineered fruit the size of my face”. The narrative is carried well by protagonist, Michael (Michael Propster), and his brother, Eliot (Michael Innocenti). The pace is smooth and the transitions between scenes are handled quickly and efficiently. The blocking is well developed and works well with the three-quarter round theater showing well to all sides. The only problem is that there is room for emotional growth of Michael at the end of each scene, but although implied, the play does not really show the growth well and so his new awareness at the end feels somewhat abrupt. But it was an excellent start to this evening of one acts.
The Relationship of Archibald and Amity as Lived Inside of an Elevator
By Eric Kalman, directed by Michael Dove, dramaturgy by Elissa Goetschius
For such an ungainly title, this was an artistically pleasing one act. Archibald and Amity are stranded in an elevator that breaks down between floors. In classic romantic comedy fashion, we watch them meet, learn about each other, fall in love, fall out of love and back in love. However, despite the rather predictable destination, the journey is less so and extremely insightful and there is some rich situational humor that diverts the travelers along the way. That combined with a rather gruesome ending keeps the audience on its toes throughout this wonderful piece.
The writing is solid and strong for most of the 55 minutes. Levitz finds many delightful twists that makes this microcosm relationship fresh and entertaining. Especially amusing are the paper signs they hang around the elevator to signify “Bedroom”, “Aroma of cookies baking” and “Photographs of day at the beach.” Jacob Yeh and Heather Haney deliver excellent performances as Archibald and Amity, respectively. They have an great chemistry even when their characters are strangers and just getting to know one another.
Special kudos to the actors who have to perform quick scene changes as they change some of their clothing and add props from their bags all in the complete dark. The song sound bites during the scene changes add to the atmosphere and are well chosen. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of being in a small space (delineated by a square of light on the floor), the blocking was oft-times a bit static and sometimes was not well suited to the three quarter round (the actors sat with their backs to the side audiences for significant periods of time). The other problem was that towards the end, the script which moved so gaily and smoothly earlier, seemed to have trouble knowing how to end and the last scene or two didn’t quite fit as smoothly. But the limitations were minor and did not detract significantly from the overall excellent production.
Beautiful American Soldier
By Dano Madden, directed by Mark Ramont, dramaturgy by Clementine Thomas
After the two good pieces, it was hard to imagine that the evening could continue on its strong path. At the second intermission, some patrons who were not expecting quite such a long night, bailed leaving a few more scattered empty seats. It was unfortunate for them because the best was yet to come.
Daniel Perez (Carlos Bustamante) enters a park rather high-strung. He finds the pay phone and calls his wife. Corporal Perez has just returned from active duty and is waiting by the park bench where he proposed to her, for her to pick him up and take him home. As he waits, Staff sergeant Isaiah Brown (Chuck Young), a run-down homeless soldier who had his legs blown off by a land mine in an earlier war, wheels up and tries to beg money from Perez. There is a significant amount of friction between the two and Perez finally chases Brown off. At the peak of Perez’s frenzy, he finally takes out drug paraphernalia and shoots up his “last hit”. Brown comes back while Perez is in his drugged out high and questions Perez, slowly revealing more of his situation. We learn that he is anxious having watched his commanding officer and friend get killed on a IED explosive device. Perez blames himself thinking that his sergeant committed suicide and blaming himself for not stopping his friend. Brown slowly sheds his skid row drunk persona and reveals a caring and understanding vet as he tries to counsel Perez. Perez comes out of his stupor and tries to deny having a drug problem as Brown tries to convince him that using drugs is just running away from his problems. Perez finds one more “hit” and we then find out that Perez has not just returned, but has been back for three months, and was thrown out by his wife due to his drug problems. Much like True West, at the end we have a bit of role-reversal in who is straight and who is down-and-out.
This was theater at its most riveting. The performances were intense and gripping by both actors. Bustamante ably captured the manic bipolar Perez flowing from the frenetic, withdrawal-charged to the drug-hazed addict. He was equally adept at conveying tender moments talking about his character’s wife and daughter as he was in angrily railing against fate and his scene partner. Young was a perfect foil. He was the epitome of the cheery panhandler trying to charm a dollar from anyone near him and playing up their military brotherhood. And over the course of 50 minutes, we watched him truly morph into a caring, understanding human so perceptive and different from the foppish character at the beginning. The writing was crisp and captivating. The story flowed so well that despite some periods with no dialogue, the audience was still intensely spellbound by the action. The blocking was truly inspired and well-fit to the three quarters round. Young’s blocking in the wheelchair was especially well-done and focused the attention wherever needed.
What a fantastic night of theater. We went in gambling on new untried works and came up all aces.
Source Theater One-Act Plays: Group G
Produced by Source Theatre
Reviewed by Ted Ying
Running Time: 3:05 including two 15-minute intermissions