Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008

The Geometry of Expectation

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The exact pattern of elements that make for a pleasantly memorable trip to the theatre can be very, very precise. The exact mix of things that will emotionally draw-in an audience changes every night. The exact mix of things the will emotionally draw-in a critic are considerably different, not because the critic necessarily has any special set of skills that separates him or her from any other theatergoer, but because he or she sees more theatre than most of the rest of the people in an audience. When you go to the theatre three times a week, each experience is that much less intense than it would be if you were only to go once per week or once per month. What’s more, advance research before a show can make the initial impact of a show that much less intense.

This past weekend I saw two monologue shows: one on Saturday night and one on Sunday. Both Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings (Kopper Bear) and Brian Friel’s Faith Healer (Next Act) were monologue shows featuring three actors. Three Viewings was a comedy. Faith Healer was a drama. Both were very well written and very well executed by talented actors in a small, intimate space. True to form for Next Act, the three actors in the show were all Equity, with a great deal of stage experience. By contrast, I haven’t seen many of the actors with Kopper Bear. Both shows were great, but I was much more impressed with Three Viewings because I didn’t have elaborate expectations. I’d been looking forward to Faith Healer since they’d announced who was going to be in it: Jonathan Smoots, Mary MacDonald Kerr and David Cecsarini performing a work by the guy who wrote Translations was going to be good. I wasn’t as familiar with the cast of Three Viewings Brian Faracy I’d remembered from his previous work with Kopper Bear. I’d loved Amy Geyser’s performance as the female lead in their production of How I Learned to Drive years ago, but back then she was Amy Booth. The only thing I can remember seeing Amy Geyser in was the Bunny Gumbo show . . . so I had only a vague idea of who she was. The show ended up being a real surprise . . . so I ended up quite a bit more affected by it than the Next At show, which was every bit as good.

The studio theatre was general seating, so I took a seat out front. (In a monologue show, the difference between the first two rows and the rest of the theatre can feel infinite.) Passion and complexity fused in the imperfect divinity of the moment. Each actor spoke word of loss on the behalf of characters speaking for playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. The last was from Elaine Wyler . . . a cleverly-crafted bit painstakingly delivered about a woman losing her husband and meeting him for the first time. It was heartbreaking. That night I noticed an actress I knew sitting not far from me in the front row. After the last monologue and all the applause, I went over to talk to her. There were tears in her eyes.

Kopper Bear only does abut one play per year, but this was the first one in a long time. Artistic Director Howard Bashinski told me that he was thinking of doing Thom Paine: Based on Nothing. He opted out of it because he couldn’t find the right person for the role, so he didn’t do a show last year. Sometimes the greatest dedication to the stage is to now when not to be there—the three scarce shows I’ve seen with Kopper Bear in the past four years have all been quite good.

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