Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

Theater Review

I had a rough night last night. I've been getting my blood sugar level under control by adjusting the timing of my insulin shots, and I over-shot. Woke up at 4 am with an Hgl of 61, had some ice cream drizzled with honey before remembering there was apple juice in the fridge. Oh well. It takes about 15-20 minutes to feel human again, and lows drain me significantly. Which is why I slept way late and didn't get up until 11, and didn't have my taxes done until 12:30. Which is when I got the email message.

The email message was from Elizabeth L., telling me she was in the current production at Pear Avenue Theater . She was my director's assistant for Play On!, at Santa Clara Players a couple of years ago. At the time she was incredibly shy and soft-spoken and self-deprecating - the last person I would have expected to get up in front of an audience as an actress.

But there's something in Elizabeth's background which is at odds with this wallflower personality - she happens to be a lawyer. A senior research attorney in the State Court of Appeal, if I read her Bar Association bio correctly. And we're not talking just some hack, we're talking a graduate of Hastings College - the premiere law school for the UC system.

But I digress.

The Pear is a tiny theater a few blocks from where I work, quite close to Microsoft's Mountain View campus, just off Shoreline Blvd, on (you guessed it) Pear Ave. It seats 39 people in a small blackbox theater. And they do some very good work there.

In addition to plays (both Pear-produced, and some done by other companies), the Pear hosts a play writing class. Each year they take the best of the class' short plays, and produce an evening of one-acts called Pear Slices.

Since it's only a 4-minute drive to there from my place, now that the Hwy 85 off-ramp is done, I had some lunch, then hopped into the car to go to the theater. I didn't think they would be sold out on a Sunday afternoon, but they were. Luckily, there were six no-shows, and six of us on the waiting list, so I got a front row center seat.

I'll take the plays in chronological order:

Nobody's Bench by William Kenney is kind of a take-off on Albee's Zoo Story. It starts with a man (Manuel Caneri) sitting on a park bench being very rude to a woman in a modern nun's habit (Elizabeth) who is pushing a pram, and sits on the other end of the bench, trying to strike up a conversation. The man claims the bench is his, and wants the nun to leave. Enter a Vietnam vet panhandler (John Watson) to make the scene even more interesting. All three gave solid performances, and the playlet is pretty clever, in an Ionesco-esque way. Elizabeth looks very sexy as a nun.

Broken Things by Bill D'Agostino is the story of a hippie-folksinger (Sarah Eismann) and her asocial programmer brother (Josh Sigal) on their way to a funeral. It's an awkward reunion - she ran away from home 5 years before, and the funeral is for the relative she was running from. I didn't get exactly who that was (telling my guesses would be a spoiler so I won't). Again, well-acted, except Josh didn't always give enough separation between being in the action, and being the narrator. A lighting change would have helped. The ending was touching, but was telegraphed too early.

La Fortuna by Ross Peter Nelson. Elizabeth is a tourist in Italy whose travel companion (Sarah) has dumped her for a gondolier. In an attempt to escape the advances of her pensionne concierge (John Baldwin) she ducks into a Tarot reader's parlor. The card reader (Terry Boero) has a challenge getting her to stay - each card she turns over is a major trauma for the tourist. I had trouble with the ending, which followed the letter of the plot, but not its spirit. A little more work and maybe the luxury of another 3 minutes of lead-up and follow-through would help. Again, excellent acting all around.

The Goddess by Deborah Dutton did not live up the the three previous works. An "American Native" (Manuel) lures a New York real estate hot shot (Susannah Greenwood) up to his New Mexico cabin on the reservation, with ulterior motives. She wants his body even more than he wants hers, so his insistence that she eat some hallucinogenic cactus doesn't make much sense as a plot device. There were some clever bits in there, and Susannah does a lovely high-class slut, but we don't really understand exactly what Manuel's character is really after.

In Memory of Roderick Hollingsworth by Paul Braverman: Elizabeth, Susannah and Josh are siblings waiting to hear the reading of their lost-for-30-years father's will by a friend of their father (John Watson). John Baldwin plays the lawyer. Josh is a little unconvincing as a ski bum (he just isn't built for it) but Elizabeth does a good job as the eldest "peacemaker" and Susannah just nails the bitchy control freak her character is. The surprise ending works well, and the play raises a lot of social issues questions.

Transference by Elyce Melmon just didn't do it for me. It's about a couple - Terry plays a psychologist and John Baldwin is her MD husband - who are sort of possessed, sort of channeling the poet Yeats and his lover. The psychologist spends way too much time making weird noises and gestures to exorcise Yeats, and it gets in the way of figuring out what's actually supposed to be going on here. The ending is inconclusive, and the whole concept is kind of lame.

The Cockatiel by Neva Marie starts with a woman (Sarah) trying to hail a cab while her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (Manuel) in his jammies and barefoot, is trying to beg her to come back. This is happening in front of a diner, where the waitress (Susannah) and one of the regulars (Josh) watch, and play some mind games on her when she comes in to use the phone. Good acting, interesting ending, but this would have been a lot more entertaining if the playwright had made this a serial dumping. I also did not buy the concept that a woman who has just run out on her boyfriend would put up with the crap the waitress gave her.

Storm Warning by Paul Braverman puts a Carter Center election canvasser (Watson) in the same elevator as a high-on-prescription-meds, sniffling, sneezing psychotic middle aged piece of trailer trash (Terry). A hurricane is on its way, the power goes out... A very stock concept, but both characters were unbelievable. Terry's character is way too over the top, Watson's is way too sedate and boring. It's the way the characters are written, not the way they are performed. Terry looked hot - I'd run away with her in a minute, but not her character in this one.

Considering the barebones production values and the extreme time limits, this is an excellent show. Great for short attention spans.

Pear Slices continues at the Pear Avenue Theater, 1220 Pear Avenue #K, Mountain View Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Door open 10 minutes before curtain, and you're going to need reservations (650-254-1148). $10 for students and seniors, $15 for the rest of us.

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