The measure of a mature culture is not that it celebrates success, but that it accepts failure and moves on. Thus the great thing about the Women’s Voices Theater Festival is not that Sheila Callaghan has written another great play — she has been writing great plays for years — but that a writer can fail, as Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams have failed during their careers — and no one makes any broad claims, either about the writer or about whatever classification they fall into.
One such failure, I’m sorry to say, is Trish Tinkler Gets Saved, Jacqueline Goldfinger’s new piece which Unexpected Stage Company is producing at the old Round House Theatre in Silver Spring. It is a mess of a play, with implausible characters performing implausible acts in the service of an implausible plot. Moreover, the performances are notso hotso, although it is impossible for me to imagine what great actors would do with these lines.
We open to see Jan (Amanda Spellman), dressed in a bear suit, humming tunelessly as she shifts from one foot to the other. She has received bad news, and Rhonda (Rachel Murray) is trying to comfort her. They are in the Eat & Save, a low-grade convenience store which sells knockoff goods for less, and Rhonda and Jan are closing up. Around them, Rampant Capitalism is building million-dollar condos, occasionally interfering with their supply of electricity. Eventually, Rhonda soothes Jan by allowing her to sing “Jimmy Crack Corn,” after which Jan lies down on the floor, with a smile on her face.
Thus in the first five minutes of the play Goldfinger has essentially ruined one of her characters, reducing Jan to the emotional and intellectual level of a six-year-old (her favorite method of persuasion is to say “please please please,” which she does several times in the play). Nor do things become more rational with the arrival of Trish Tinkler (Kristen Jepperson), a blowsy 40-year old professional Whitesnake groupie who has been abandoned by the tour bus, and who seeks to stay at the Eat & Save while the tour discovers its error and doubles back for her.
Trish, having wormed her way into this dump, becomes the play’s Lucy Ricardo — cooking up hairbrained and dangerous schemes in behalf of the play’s maguffin, which is to somehow win an Eat & Save franchise agreement for Rhonda and Jen. Rhonda must be the caretaker, which allows her to play the heavy. Murray does this dutifully, if not always convincingly, and so the play proceeds to its conclusion not like a river but like the tides: Trish proposes a moronic idea, Jen says please please please, and Rhonda says no.
The play is full of unanswered questions, such as how Rhonda and Jan, who appear to be homeless except for the store’s back room, expect to pay the Eat & Save franchise fee, or how Trish supports herself by spending all her time staring adoringly at Whitesnake lead singer Big Dick David Coverdale. These would be bothersome had the characters managed to emerge from their stereotypes. Trish tells a grotesque story about how she fell to her current estate, but the reason or reasons Rhonda and Jan have come so low remain a mystery.
TRISH TINKLER GETS SAVED
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 8 – 18, 2015
Unexpected Theatre Company
at Randolph Road Theatre
4010 Randolph Road
Silver Spring 20902
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $16 – $25
This is all the more frustrating because Unexpected Stage, one of our better small companies, gives the show a good production (Robert Pike’s sound design is particularly notable) and Goldfinger, who won Barrymore and Philadelphia Critics awards for previous plays, shows here that she’s capable of good writing. She gives Jan a beautiful speech on the nature of love. Regrettably, it is wholly out of character and much beyond Jan’s proven capabilities to that point.
Goldfinger, in her playwright’s notes, quotes Ellen DeGeneres disapproval of “comedy… based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense.” But that, as Mark Twain observed long ago, is the only way of getting a laugh. The entire last season of “Ellen” was based on getting a laugh at the expense of the tired old bigots who disapproved of Ellen’s sexuality. As the great comic Rowan Atkinson observed, the essence of comedy is selfishness. It cannot be achieved, I believe, by “a story of funny, quirky, and supportive female friendship that’s rarely seen on-stage,” as Goldfinger suggested in this interview (although such a story can, of course, be part of a comedy).
Goldfinger expresses an affection for ” banged up characters and their stories.” I believe that she could write a good play about them. This isn’t it, though.
Editor’s note: The reviewer originally assigned to this play discovered a conflict of interest which prevented him from reviewing the play. I asked Tim, who was in the audience, to review it in his stead.
Trish Tinkler Gets Saved by Jacqueline Goldfinger . Ddirected by Christopher Goodrich . Featuring Kristen Jepperson (who also served as costume designer), Rachel Murray, and Amanda Spellman . Set design: Katie Miller . Lighting design: Gary Hauptman . Sound design: Robert Pike . Props: John Barbee and Marji Jepperson . Fight choreography:William Fleming . Stage Manager: Keta Newborn, assisted by Danielle Burman . Produced by Unexpected Stage Company . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.