Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010

Flash Vs. Depth: Four Places With Next Act

Four Places: Next Act's Dazzlingly Small Canvas Drama

By Russ Bickerstaff
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This weekend has been a study in contrast for me. Friday night, I saw the Rep’s reasonably massive production of Cabaret. Last night I saw a very minimalist, realistic, straight-ahead drama with Next Act. And I ended up preferring the Next Act show. There’s a kind of purity in seemingly simple drama that holds a kind of stage reality that’s far more electrifying than any visual or musical spectacle.

It’s personal taste—the most impressive moment in the rep’s Cabaret—the one that really dazzled me was that final moment in Tomorrow Belongs To Me—as Emcee, Lee Ernst is lingering onstage. He whispers one final line in a brilliantly static moment as the lights fade out. And it’s a far bigger moment than anything else onstage over the course of the entire production. Complex lights, setting and breathtakingly detailed costuming and the one thing I love more than any other may have been the least expensive moment in the entire production . . . 

 

Which somehow brings me to Next Act’s production of Four Places. With little more than casual contemporary costuming, a table and a few chairs, Next Act brings a very touching family drama to the stage courtesy of some really, really talented actors doing solid character work. Under the direction of David Cecsarini, actors Flora Coker, Laura Gray, Mary MacDonald Kerr and Mark Ulrich bring an earthbound drama to the stage of the 10th Street Theatre. It’s a bit tricky to try to define why Four Places had such an intense effect on me in a weekend also featuring an opening of such a massive musical production. Compare the stories of Cabaret and Four Places the four-person drama sounds stiflingly boring—An adult son and daughter of a woman take her out to lunch. There’s a waitress there. It’s an incredibly small canvas.

Cecsarini and company do really impressive things with tiny canvases. Next Act’s track record for these kinds of shows is nearly impeccable. Every year they do something remarkable with seemingly simple interactions between people. This is an interesting contrast to last year’s slightly more surreal Purgatorio, which was a deceptively simple conversation between a man and a woman. It’s a dialogue between a son, a daughter and a mother that expresses just as much in silence as it does in dialogue. It’s a dialogue that is sometimes about what isn’t being said. This is a show that is remarkably expressive even in those moments when everything appears to be standing still . . . it’s a really, really good opening for Next Act’s transitional 2010-2011 season between homes. 

Next Act’s production of Four Places runs through October 10th at the 10th Street Theatre. A review of the show runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express. 

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