Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

Taking Chances With Cluttered Intention

Windfall Theatre presents Thomas Rosenthal’s latest—NURTURE’S WONDERS.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The author of such previous Windfall Theatre shows as Naughty Angel and When I Give My Heart debuted his latest this past weekend. Nurture’s Wonders is an exploration into the nature of aggression, retribution, parenting and . . . quite a lot of other things in a package that mixes drama with comedy—realism with fantasy. As potent as certain moments can seem, the show as a whole feels far too scattered to make the kind of impact it could. There’s potential here for a provocative show, but Nurture’s Wonders is  buried in its own ambition.

The show features a solid cast of actors. Robertt W.C. Kennedy and Amy Hansmann play George and Marti—a married couple raising two boys. He’s a policeman. She’s a psychiatrist. As the play opens, George and Marti are confronted by the principal of the school the boys go (Ben George) to and the Chief of Police (Thomas Dillon.) Evidently the older boy has brought a gun to school. The boy is sent off to be punished in a juvenile detention center. The drama here is mixed with bits of comedy, including the single best moment in the play, when both parents are trying to justify the gun and a list of names found in their son’s notebook. It’s a dark reality that’s peppered with a clever bit of comedy.

The very solid, concrete reality of a kid bringing a gun to school is compounded by a number of different additional plot elements. Carol Zippel plays a woman with an eating disorder—since she’s fixated on eating something anyone could find appealing, it’s played as comedy with a darker edge lurking around the corners. George and Marti are concerned that their younger son may be following down a similar path as their oldest. As luck would have it, a young inadvertent time traveler from the early ‘90’s named Marshall. The aspiring recording artist is from a neighborhood in Detroit in the general vicinity of 8-mile road. Okay, so there’s a mix of comedy and straight-ahead serious drama, but an earlier incarnation of Eminem (played by Michael Gau) seems a bit out of place here. It would seem less so if the script didn’t have so much else going on . . .in particular a plot involving Marti’s decision to become a costumed crime-fighter to protect kids from bullies. A straight-ahead description of the plot would probably make the story sound like a wacky comedy, but Rosenthal has a genuine desire to explore some of the themes that gets lost in the rush.

For their part, the cast does a pretty good job of delivering the balance between comedy and drama in a cluttered script. Director Maureen Kilmurry charts a path through the script that a cast this talented has no trouble following. The nice bit about Rosenthal’s work here is that it allows everyone in the cast a moment to connect with the audience in some way. It’s pretty well balanced and no one here really seems to be grossly wasted. As a whole, the script tries to do too much to build-up much genuine insight into what’s being explored. It’s an interesting experience, though. It feels like a tremendous amount of work on the part of some very talented people has been invested in a first draft. It may sound like weak and weird praise, but one is unlikely to have an experience like this with narrative anywhere but small, local theatre companies with the courage to take a chance on a script like Rosenthal’s Nurture’s Wonders.

Windfall Theatre’s Nurture’s Wonders runs through March 5th at Village Church Arts on 130 East Juneau. For reservations, call 414-332-3963.

 

 

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