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Excellent Semi-Abstract Production of God's Ear

Richard Connema

Shotgun Players are currently presenting Jenny Schwartz's surrealistic drama God's Ear through June 20th at the Ashby Stage. This is the kind of play that grows on you, and you have to be on your toes throughout the whole 90-minute intriguing production. This is not for theatregoers who prefer a linear and neatly told drama.

God's Ear is the story of a couple whose young son has just died. Ted (Ryan O'Donnell) does a lot of traveling to forget the loss while Mel (Beth Wilmurt) is close to a nervous breakdown. She still has six-year-old daughter Lanie (Nika Ezell Pappas) to look after as best she can. The whole production is dream-like and in the mind of Mel as she enters near madness. Jenny Schwartz's dialogue is free flowing. Sometimes the characters say nothing important to advance the play, but there is a wonderful crazy energy about them. It is the merging of a dream and a real world, and comes off beautifully.

The edgy dialogue has a lot of colloquialisms and sometimes the words unfold at a frenzied pace. They are often repeated and disconnected, and sometimes the characters break out in clever songs by Michael Friedman. It is almost like a David Mamet play on speed. The playwright's linguistic style is fascinating.

God's Ear has a lot of strange characters coming into the mind of Mel. They include a tooth fairy (Melinda Meeng) who wears blue tasseled wings, a G.I. Joe action figure (Keith Pinto) who comes out of trap doors, the child who likes Helen Keller (Nika Ezell Pappas), a transvestite stewardess (Keith Pinto), and a sexual lady named Lenora (Zehra Berkman) whom Ted meets in an airport bar.

God's Ear
has a crackerjack cast who mine the humor and overwhelming sadness of the drama. Beth Wilmurt is superb in the role of Mel. She captures the jittery but indefatigable mood of the wife. She masters the sharp, well-developed dialogue of the playwright in several scenes, and the ending when she finally collapses is awesome.

Ryan O'Donnell gives an excellent performance as the husband, Ted. He is admirable in the role as a rudderless man traveling the world in a work-related position and talking in a repetitive language, mostly by phone, to his wife Mel. There is a delightful scene that takes place in an airport bar where Lenora, played wonderfully by Zehra Berkman, flirts with Ted. Ms. Berkman is uniquely fetching in the role of the dim-witted sex pot.

Keith Pinto is hilarious as a transvestite fight attendant and changes character to a robust G.I. Joe. Joe Estlack give a great performance as the crude man that Ted meets in an airport bar. Nina Ezell Pappas does well as the precocious daughter Lanie. Melinda Meeng is entrancing as the very glittery Tooth Fairy.

Lisa Clark's set is breathtaking, full of lovely white clouds surrounding the stage with very few props. Lighting by Allen Willner is very effective. Erika Chong Shuch's direction is wonderful. She uses a great number of techniques, including different ramps to separate reality and dream-like sequences. She has the actors deliver their lines almost eagerly, stressing the rhythms and duplications of the playwright.


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  Shotgun Players | 1901 Ashby Avenue | Berkeley, CA 94703 | 510-841-6500