Essential Theatre Play Festival 2011

17 Jul

A Sleeping Country by Melanie Marnich and Great Falls by Lee Blessing: A Review

I decided to purchase the Flex Pass for all three shows. A Thousand Circlets, I will see later in the month. Overall, it was nice to hear about two married playwrights that were chosen by Essential Theatre to première its Southern regional première at Actors Express Theatre.

A Sleeping Country directed by Peter Hardy was a comical view on a disturbing sleeping disorder that has Julia, played by Kelly Criss, up 24/7. She goes to her good friend, Midge, a psychologist, played by Megan Hayes, for help. Greg, Julia’s fiancée, played by Matthew Myers, becomes exasperated when he discovers that Midge has given her drugs to commit suicide if she needs them. Midge also researches her illness on the internet and shares that the origin of her disorder is located in Italy. Isabella, an Italian whose family has the illness, played by Holly Stevenson, meets Julia for the first time in Italy and decides to help her discover if she has the malady.

Enjoyable, with great comic effect, everyone has great moments in the play. The true tragedian is Julia who never finds the true cause of her illness but still keeps the affection of her fiancée in the end. I like Marnich’s twist of the main character going to Italy to make discoveries of her own. The witticisms of Isabella were hilarious and having the butler, son of Isabella, including Greg played by the same character had great comic moments as well. Precise and distinctive, I enjoyed each character/personality presented. It would have been nice to find more comic moments for Julia since she played the role seriously straight throughout. As a matter of fact, I’m not able to recall a comic moment with Julia. The other characters create the comic relief needed for this play, especially Isabella.

Great Falls directed by Ellen McQueen was a completely opposite play, which I appreciated. I’m enjoying the diversity of all plays selected for the Festival. It was spot on with its interpretation of the script by the actors Emmett Furrow as Monkeyman and Ashleigh Hoppe as Bitch. Tragedy for me makes me contemplate the issues long after the play was over. This was no different. It’s less complicated in plot but more intense in story. A step-father and his step-daughter take a trip. Actually, Bitch was abducted into a cross-country visit to the midwest for family time. Both are writers and that’s their common bond. However, Bitch hates her step-father until he reveals why he left her mother. I was struck by the great moments in this play with the dad explaining to his step-daughter how a man feels about his sexual relationship with his former wife and why he had to cheat. Meanwhile, Bitch’s relationship with men including her mental psychotic state has devastating effects to her life. There is a long history of sexual abuse within the family that Monkeyman, tries to reconcile with his former wife but he leaves her anyway. I, as an audience member, wants to sympathize with the wife, but I end up sympathizing with the husband, especially when he shares his point of view. Discovering that he was a coward for not helping his wife, that becomes minor when he discovers that Bitch is pregnant by either three men who raped her. Bitch reconciles with her step-dad when he helps her get an abortion.

I’m struck on how this father-daughter relationship is about sex, marriage, date-rape, a road-trip, all into one. It wasn’t a pleasant experience to sit through. The yelling of Bitch actually got on my nerves for a while but both actors play their roles with honest abandon. It also ends with the two never to see each other again. In the end, you don’t blame the dad. He did his best. He was honest with his former wife and step-daughter and didn’t mistreat them, although he gets most of the blame for ending the marriage. He has to leave – no hugs are given – appropriate, and they part without further remorse.

Out of this husband and wife team, Great Falls, gave me more points on how “one man” thinks about marriage, sex, and committment. Strong monologues for men and early 20s women are here. The residue of this play gave me a stronger imprint on my mind.

The review of A Thousand Circlets will come later.


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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Film/Television/Theatre


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