Whoever holds the power holds the truth. Or is it the other way around?
So rests the premise of Gang of Five’s production, PowerPlays. In five scenes, this team of playwrights explores the impact of gender, age, authority, and mental capacity on distribution of power and the prevailing version of truth.
Each scene has a different author, so director Ritchie Porter presents them as chapters in an anthology. The format clearly supports the tone of the production, as does the chosen order of scenes. Seamless transitions connect each story literally and conceptually, so much so that the unanswered questions in Scene #1 remain active and present even as Scene #5 takes its curtain.
Dimitri Neos opens with “The Switch,” inviting the audience into a couple’s argument over vegetarianism/veganism. The boyfriend, Jeff (Louis Lavoie), feels slighted when his girlfriend, Monica (Emily Sucher), announces her new life choice – and how her choice will impact his own eating preferences.
Next, Marilyn Bennett’s “Rosalie,” transports us to a private room in an assisted living community. The playwright also stars as Eileen, an elderly resident who has been mistakenly identified as ‘Rosalie’ by another resident, Jack (Dwane Starlin).
Michelle Rago’s “Advantage” takes a darker turn, as Missy (Sucher) meets with a male executive in her office (played by Keith Anderson) about the sexual harassment complaint she filed against her supervisor. Swinging 180 degrees, J T Caruso brings us the “Book of Regulations,” a manifestation of overbearing legislature come to protect the rights of chickens. Finally, Sarah Dimont Sorkin’s “Turtle” peers into a family’s morning routine as they cope with their father’s declining memory.
Produced by Gang of Five
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Particularly impressive were Dwane Starlin and Emily Sucher’s performances. Both actors took on three distinct characters, commanding the audience’s attention and respect in each role. When Sucher took the stage as Missy in “Advantage,” she struggled to fix the height on her broken chair, literally placing her on a lower level than her male superior. Her disadvantage only held her back temporarily, quickly taking over the scene in an inspiring offensive. Meanwhile, Starlin portrayed two characters at varying degrees of mental degradation (BLANK and BLANK) with such sincerity and care, I heard several audience members audibly expressed their sympathies.
Overall, each playwright shows strength in questioning the presumed possessor of power. As you absorb each character’s words and behavior, you might find that the character you pinned as powerful in the opening moment might not be as powerful as initially thought. For anyone familiar with liberal feminism or aging grandparents, the conclusions of most of these scenes seem to hit the mark. The production is certainly a pleasant experience, even during its more serious moments, and the professional prowess of the cast and crew is exceptionally clear. However, I did leave the theatre with one concern that I would be remiss to ignore.
In “Book of Regulations,” the hyperbolic scenario jumps right into the sticky mess that is government regulation and convoluted legislature. The Book (Anderson) knocks on the door of an elderly, Midwestern couple and informs them that their chicken coops are now illegal. In order to comply with the new rules, they must provide each chicken with a one-bedroom apartment, among other amenities. At one point, the exasperated patriarch, George (Starlin), looks for his gun to scare the Book off his property.
The obvious interpretation is that this is an analogy for the reach of the government into private citizens’ homes… and, apparently, chicken coops. At least, until a ‘humane treatment’ joke that seems to come out of nowhere. Yes, of course, providing chickens with one-bedroom apartments is nonsensical – but how far is that interpretation being stretched here? Is the playwright implying that the government might want to ‘regulate’ your behavior toward other creatures… or people? Was this an accident, and if not, what stance did he mean to take? Perhaps if the implications had been more directly addressed, especially since the theme is power and truth, I would not be raising my eyebrows. If you see it, perhaps you will draw different conclusions altogether.
PowerPlays . Playwrights: Dimitri Neos, Marilyn Bennett, Michelle Rago, J T Caruso, and Sarah Dimont Sorkin . Director: Ritchie Porter . Cast: Keith Anderson, Marilyn Bennett, Louis Lavoie, Dwane Starlin, Emily Sucher . Composer: Mark Haag . Sound and Lights: Dimitri Neos, Ritchie Porter . Technical Consultant: Ben Zastrow . Produced by Gang of Five . Reviewed by Lucette Moran.