Monday, March 1, 2010

Pleasantly Stuck

In Tandem's Latest Comedy

By Russ Bickerstaff
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In Tandem Theatre continues its season with a production of Neil Haven’s Stuck. The show opened this past weekend. I’d seen the show before when it’s inaugural UW-Whitewater production came to the In Tandem’s 10th Street Theatre in August of ’08. Directed by In Tandem co-founder Chris Flieller, the show has considerably more aesthetic depth to it than the original production. Flieller has great comic instincts and has populated the production with some incredibly talented people who enhance the script’s comic appeal a great deal.

Making her Milwaukee theatre premiere, Leia Espericueta plays Ella—an agoraphobic elevator operator at a retro-themed hotel in Milwaukee. Espericueta is a charming, attractive woman with a very magnetic stage presence. She’s also got considerable comedic talent. Something’s missing, though. Maybe it’s the fact that the woman playing the role in UW-Whitewater production had such a beautifully idiosyncratic personality in the role. Espericueta’s charm and beauty go a long way here. There’s a subtle, intricate level of imbalance to a woman who feels compelled to live out of an elevator and she’s not quite picking-up on it. Amanda Frenecki had a captivating sense of that deep, emotional imbalance of an agoraphobic. Someone completely well-adjusted to her own psychological quirks to be completely at ease living entirely out of an elevator is kind of difficult to get a handle on and Frenecki did a much more compelling job of it than Espericueta. That being said, Espericueta lacks none of the elements necessary for establishing a compelling connection with the audience, so there’s nothing missing from the production as a whole.  

The rest of the cast is great as well. Nichoas Harazin has charisma that doesn’t clash at all with the comedy. He’s playing a man from Seattle on a business trip. His wife (played by Alison Mary Forbes) is suspicious of him possibly cheating on her, so she hires a sexy escort (Libby Amato) to try to seduce him. It’s kind of a strange idea—the sort of thing Lucy would’ve tried on Desi without much success . . . but Forbes does an excellent job of selling it here given the limitations of the script. Forbes has a vulnerable magnetism in the role that makes her come across remarkably sympathetic for a woman who seems dead set on making sure her husband cheats on her. It gives the story kind of a strange, off-balance dynamic that would require considerably more depth from the script to flesh everything out in a completely satisfying way. Forbes performance really seems to call for more time with her over the course of the play, which would turn the story into something else altogether. Libby Amato plays a villain. She’s good at it. It would be really nice to see her in something more substantial. Sketch comedy group The Show’s Karen Estrada and Doug Jarecki are brilliantly comic here. Jarecki lends some depth to the show as the bartender n the hotel bar. Estrada helps flesh-out Ella’s social life as a maid who works at the hotel.

The set is particularly intimate for those on the side, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from In Tandem. A more traditional theatre experience is there for those who want to sit in front with most of the rest of the seats, but the seats in the side, particularly those in the front row get one that much closer to what’s going on onstage. In this case, the closer proximity adds quite a bit. Those actors sitting at the table in the hotel bar have a really organic stage presence. They’re almost at a conversational distance from those in the front row of the side section. There’s a kind of immediacy there that adds to the more serious dramatic elements of the show. What with Ella being agoraphobic and never leaving the elevator, Espericueta is kept a significant distance away from everyone. The really ingenious bit here is the fact that Flieller sets Espericueta up in the set’s elevator for the entire length of the show . . . intermission and all. Sit there in the theatre through the intermission and the reality of the character’s lifestyle begins to set-in she’s sitting there, occasionally texting, occasionally blowing bubbles. She’ll tidy-up the space a bit . . . and in the context of a large group of theatergoers having an intermission conversation, there’s a compelling kind of reality there that brings the reality of Ella into remarkable focus. That’s probably the most brilliant end of Espericueta’s performance . . . she makes it all feel so natural.

 In Tandem’s production of STUCK runs through February 26th at the 10th Street Theatre. Tickets can be purchased by calling 414-271-1371 or online at In Tandem’s Website.


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