Play by Play Crossroads
It won’t rescue your soul, change the course of your life, or awaken your sleeping genius, but Play by Play Crossroads at Stageworks is a terrific evening of intelligent, lively theater.
The poverty of regional theater companies is often obvious in their productions; but here everything seems scrubbed down to what is truly expressive for clarity and art’s sake rather than for budget’s sake.
Each of the seven mini-plays is introduced with a lovely, spare image on a huge screen at the back of the stage. Besides being visually delightful, the screen is a fast, useful shorthand for “where,” and it leaves a nice actor-centered stage.
“Spare” is one of the many virtues of this production, thanks to directors Abby Lee and Laura Margolis and their actors and designers. The space is clean, the lines cleanly delivered (if occasionally pointedly besmirched in content), the shape of actors’ movements is etched cleanly. Did I say that nothing is extraneous?
The plays follow a pattern of leaking out significant information in satisfying sequences that usually build toward a final smack in the style of O. Henry or theater-song buttons. The subjects range from Peter I. Tchaikovsky’s coming suicide (he faces disgrace due to his predilection for sex with young boys) to marketing discussions about a virus invention that can be implanted in brains–in order to tune in to other people’s experiences. (Ooo, sex with movie stars!) The sexual foursome in Swing Factor may make your stomach queasy at the start, but you are soon sucked in (sorry!) by author Rich Orloff, who gathers you to his bosom with snappy dialogue and hilarious humanity. The delicious tantrums delivered by Ryan R. Katzer and Angela Rauscher are a particular joy.
Sometimes at Stageworks one may feel lobbied by apologists for tired 1960s sexual mores; but fortunately the plays almost always offer good writing and good acting. (You are unlikely ever to see a bad actor at Stageworks. Margolis knows actors.)
It is icky, during Sweethearts (by Rebekah Lopata,) when a middle-aged woman announces that she really wanted to become a lawyer. That she gave up everything for her son, who has had the bad taste to commit suicide. But good actors can rescue a spate of unfortunate dialogue, and dialogue spoken by Linda Roper and Richard Vernon is in good hands. (Good throats? Good brains?)
Watching Roper morph from an attractive, upscale lady in Sweethearts, to the shuffling, mordant-tongued crone in William Borden’s Gunning for Life is by itself worth the price of admission to Play by Play. At her husband’s approaching death, she fires shots of black rancor and black, “what-should-we-do-cry-in-our-beer?” humor.Yet, at the end, morphine appears to counter the bravado.
This Is What I Wanted could be even shorter without damage to its impact and its charm, but it is fun to watch Angela Rauscher (of the shapely legs and Betty Grable poses) tell us and her soldier boy friend what lives she does not want. What she does not want flashes in efficient (clean) shorthand on the screen.
The soldier desperately longs for connection. At the end of this play, the eyes of the two characters meet for the first time along with the guns of war—a possible cure for home-front narcissism.
Costumes by Adrienne Westmore are excellent throughout, but, for the red polka dot sundress Rauscher wears in This Is What I Wanted, Westmore deserves a raise!
Like everything else in this production, the sound is rich, crisp and yes, clean.
All in all, Play by Play Crossroads has got to be the best night out in the county. With a nod to the recession, Stageworks is now offering super-duper admission prices, so buy a ticket and be prepared to get much more than you deserve. There are performances through October 11 at Stageworks in Hudson, after which it transfers to Proctors Theater in Schenectady.