Critic Finally Uses Overworked Adjective
The first evening with the Shotguns, which turned out to be the more sober-minded of the two, began with Richard Greenberg's The Author's Voice, which concerns a writer (Danny Wolohan), his editor (Karin T. Tucker), and his muse (Kevin Karrick). The muse is a gnarled gnome of the genome, called Gene, a hideous creature imprisoned by his master and forced to crank out a novel. Think "the Shoemaker and the Elves," with sadism.
The play indulges in several myths that writers like to perpetuate about themselves. First, that writing is about being tormented. Second, that being tormented is a sign of great depth. Third, that if this torment were ever revealed to others, it would be too dark for them to handle. There is some interesting reflection on the value of experience versus reflection. The acting is good. Karrick and Wolohan wrestle each other with literary gusto, and Tucker, as a hot-to-trot editor, does what she can with a skimpy part. But when Gene swoops in and kisses her, just as expected, the play loses its last chance to surprise.
Things pick up in the second one-act, the very interesting Something in the Basement, by Don Nigro. A husband and wife war against each other in their bed, contesting their sex life, who'll go check on the noises in the basement, and anything else at hand. What's really at issue is who's in control-of sex, but more importantly of defining the marriage. According to Mary, who limns the parameters of the battle, what's wrong is that she's bored.
She's the more adept at expressing herself. "I'm from the Planet Vulva," declares the sweetly acidic Rachel Brown as Mary, "come to abduct your sexual organs-if I can find them." As for Phillip, he is played with a fine mulelike tenderness by John Ficarra. Phillip can't win, but he won't stop trying. The central problem-that the couple is childless because Phillip is infertile-is spoken around and only revealed little by little, which is just right. The one misstep is the ending, which has to do with the motif of something being in the basement, a Mack-truck-sized symbol that the play doesn't need.
Like The Author's Voice, the second night's opener, The Winged Man, is built on a single concept, with similarly wobbly results. Here a girl finds a winged man, feeds him an energy bar, and somewhere in the midst of several fade-to-blacks gets pregnant. It is wondered whether the winged father of the child is an angel, or merely from a race of winged men, though more likely he's a relative of the very old man with enormous wings in the Gabriel García Márquez short story.
Unlike García Márquez, however, who engenders magical things with absolutely straight-faced causality, playwright José Rivera doesn't ever connect the odd fact of a winged man with a solid world, nor does the wingedness ever take off as representative of something larger. Here again, the acting is good. Shabnam Peña plays the girl, and Monica M. Cortés her friend, whose job it is to be concerned when the pregnant girl starts eating birdseed. Why does she eat birdseed, when the father wasn't a bird but a winged man?
With three plays down and only one to go, I was fairly confident I had already seen the bizarre one-act on the program. Then came Dasvedanya Mama, by Ethyl Eichelberger. Where to begin? Crackling with high spirits, confrontational edge, and musical numbers, Dasvedanya Mama was strange and excellent. The actors break out of character at times, and the results, possibly improvised, are riveting. The story, a melange of The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters, is extremely Kafkaesque. Brian Linden, towering in pink taffeta, sparkles as Olga, and serves as mistress of ceremonies. Beth Donohue plays all three sisters, and you'll want to see how. Special congratulations to whomever keeps track of all the props. If it were much longer than one act, Dasvedanya Mama wouldn't work, but as is, it delivers a wonderful campy jolt.
Weekly , August
The centerpiece of this program of shorts by the Shotgun Players (spread out over two nights) is Ethyl Eichelberger's Dasvedanya Mama, directed by Mark Swetz. Dasvedanya Mama is the late Eichelberger's spoof of Three Sisters and The Seagull, though "spoof" doesn't capture the inventive, irreverent absurdity of the piece. The show includes the cast's improvised, hilarious dialogues on the nature of acting and actors; interrupting a Chekhov parody to tweak Stanislavsky makes a grand, crazy sense. Done up in drag as the matriarch Olga, Brian Linden (an actor I haven't liked previously -- as he points out) takes all the crappy reviews he's ever received (many, apparently), and tells the critics to fuck off by giving a great, fearless comic performance. Linden is freer and more comfortable than I've ever seen him. Surrounded by ridiculousness, he seems finally to be at home. Whether doing a disco diva number about keeping "the door to your heart open," pining a little too lasciviously over Olga's absent son Vaslav (Andy Alabran), or stripping down to a god-awful leotard to give a farcical rendering of Olga's acting career that closely parallels his own, Linden is astonishing, and the rest of the cast is right there with him. Beth Donohue never misses a moment as all three sisters, Masha, Irina, and Maude. (She wears a mannequin head on each shoulder.) At one point, Masha calls to the idiot ward Nina (the very tall Andrea Weber, attached to three separate IV bags), and Donohue gets down on the floor in some weird position. When Linden asks what the hell she's doing, she replies, "I'm working with levels." Alabran bellows out a Dieter-meets-Omar-Sharif accent and Mary Eaton Fairfield as the faithful servant Fierz expectorates, shuffles, and collapses perfectly.
Of the other three plays, both Richard Greenberg's The Author's Voice and Jose Rivera's The Winged Man are negligible (though Voice is well-acted by Danny Wolohan and Kevin Karrick). Don Nigro's Something in the Basement offers a creeping horror in its portrayal of a dead marriage, and Rachel Brown as the wife is an eccentric terror, picking at her wedding ring like a scab.