Monday, July 13, 2009

Impressions of Pink Banana's Latest Show

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I rarely (if ever) have the opportunity to see five shows in as many days. I’m nearing the end of doing just that. The interesting thing about it is that of those five shows—three of them are opening nights, which must be some kind of personal record of some sort. Another thing about doing five shows in five days—it’s an extraordinary amount of time away from my wife. She likes the theatre, but she doesn’t like going THAT much . . . so I end up getting one of five nights with her and the other four of five alone with the audience.

The ordering of the shows is by luck alone. And, as chance would have it, two shows about difficult romantic relationships opened on different sides of town on two consecutive evenings. My wife joined me for the third show—a musical adaptation of Little Women with Acacia that had opened earlier in the weekend. It was nice seeing a show with her, but it felt out of synch with the previous two. The fourth show in the sequence kinda made sense—Pink Banana’s production of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me .. . Frank McGuinness’ drama about three men being held hostage in Lebanon. There’s something strange about going to a 2.5 hour show that's about being held captive. You know that in roughly 3.5 hours (possibly less depending on traffic) you’re going to be back home with your wife. But you know these guys—these actors have to live through this captivity for another handful of performances. And the characters they’re playing . . . and so many others like them unjustly prisoned in the world outside the stage . . . so many of them  might never see their loved ones again. And as obvious and simple as this observation is and as harsh a world it is . . . it’s difficult to know what to say to my wife during intermission of a production of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. I’ve done it once before . . . the late Spiral Theatre had a production of the play a couple of years ago and again, I’m watching three people held captive with no hope of escape and I’m calling my wife during intermission—not because I have anything specific to say . . . just because I can/ And a play like McGuiness’ reminds me that there are people who can’t.

It was a good production . . .a full review of which will appear in this week’s upcoming Shepherd-Express. As there are three reviews this issue, I had to limit the review considerably. A surprising couple of things I didn’t get to mention in the review:

--Director Jessica Betts (sorry—I don’t always mention the Director and the 200 word print limit meant that her name was left out this time . . .) This play is one that spoke to Betts as well . . . evidently seeing it on a trip to London. I’m grateful for her wanting to stage it again. It might not have made as strong an impact on me the first time, when I saw it with Spiral Theatre—simply because it was so simple and primal that I didn’t realize just how well-written it was. Having a chance to see it again, I realize that it really IS an amazing piece.


--Set Designer Eric Crain . . . the production I saw at the tiny, little space Spiral used at the time (its own studio theatre--I believe on National Avenue) felt very cramped and confined, but the desolate feel of captivity was largely left out . . . in part due to the fact that the baseline form the music from the Mexican restaurant next door started thumping in about halfway into the production, but partly because the small size of the set didn’t allow much space for desolation. Here set designer Evan Crain (whose work can also be seen in Youngblood’s God Bridge opening up later on this month) has developed a suitably desolate place for these three guys to nearly hammer each other apart in. When paired with the right lighting, the cinder block walls peering through the inkblot-like remains of cracking plaster look breathtakingly barren. Seen in the normal light before and after the show and during intermission, it’s apparent that this was entirely painted on flat walls, but the right light gives it profound depth. Very impressive work. It’ll be interesting to see what he’s come-up with for what I understand is a multi-level set for God Bridge.

--I’m not as familiar with two of the three actors . . . don’t recall ever seeing Adam Gaulke—who played the American—before. Same with Rob Maass who played the Irishman. But the guy who played the Brit was Nick Firer—a gentleman I’ve only ever seen in comedy before . . . I vividly remember him in a short I wrote for the last Pink Banana shorts show . . . he added a level of comedy to Unrequited Hate that simply wasn’t there in my script and it’s nice to see that he’s as talented with drama as he is with comedy. The British accent sounds remarkably authentic and he’s got a clever sense of nuance with the script. It’d be interesting to see Firer in more drama . . .

Pink Banana’s production of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me runs through July 18th. A concise, comprehensive review of the show runs in this week's Shepherd.

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