NealsPaper

All Things Entertaining and Cultural

Fool For Love — EgoPo; Words for Snow — Inis Nua; Outside Mullingar — Delaware Theatre Company

FOOL FOR LOVE — EgoPo Classic Theater at Latvian Society, 7th and Spring Garden Streets, Philadelphia, 267-273-1414, www.egopo.org -through Sunday, February 23- EgoPo’s production of “Fool For Love” holds out full Shepardian promise in its early seconds when Jered McLenigan’s Eddie turns up at a seedy Mojave Desert motel, and is seen, a shadow in the doorway, by Julianna Zinkel’s May, who moves from supine to elbow position, stares, then once Eddie approaches, hugs him hungrily and passionately as if he was a dead soldier unexpectedly returned from an allegedly fatal war. The moment is telling and thrilling, but it’s a false alarm. McLenigan and Zinkel share other ardent clinches and trade some physical and verbal blows, but Brenna Geffers’s production is too tame, too by-the-book, for the fervid vehemence of Eddie and May’s deep, abiding attraction to take hold in all its self-destructive romantic glory. McLengian and Zinkel convince you Eddie and May are in love, but they and Geffers take a push-me, pull-you approach that needs to have more helpless, uncontrollable, uncontrolled ferocity and less stoicism from Eddie and spite from May. That opening squeeze signalled fireworks that never arise and that stall Geffers’s “Fool For Love” at the good and watchable instead of going for the throat as Sam Shepard invites actors to do. “Fool For Love” calls for no less than a knockdown-drag out on several levels, and this production settles for quarreling between a couple that are more steady, more juvenile, and less defenseless than a hardscrabble Shepard pair should be. There’s more games-playing than libidinous abandonment, especially by Zinkel’s May, who looks rueful and defeated when one of her feigns of not caring fails to have its effect or works too well. Except for Joe Canuso’s droll, unapologetic father, everyone on Geffers’s stage is too good for his or her own good. Shepard writes for nasty. His plays need to deliver the nasty. “Fool For Love” needs to be one unquenchable flame. This one, again enjoyable on a less tense level, is tepid. Its temperature never gets to the unbearable. You keep waiting for it to bust out, and it never does. McLenigan is a likeable Eddie who doesn’t suggest a veiled threat that he is going to have the love, and sex, he wants if it makes the Mojave so hot, it vaporizes. McLenigan needs to find more of the animal in Eddie, more of the guy guided by sheer impulse, more of the guy who would drive 2,400 miles out his way to see the women he can’t forget or live without. More the cowboy who can stare down love like he would a thundering bronco and claim that love. Zinkel thinks a little too much as May. You can see her plotting her revenges, her way to get back at, hurt, and coyly thwart Eddie when all the character should so is sing Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” in her head and go for the gusto. Steven Wright succumbs to the same malaise. His Martin, a neighbor who comes to take May on a date to a movie, and who is unaware an Eddie lurks in her life, has the demeanor of a guy who lives in the desert as a gentleman farmer. There’s no grit to him, even when he suspects Eddie is not who he says he is, May’s cousin, and should get some urge to protect and defend a damsel in distress. Wright shows signs of wanting to help May, but he gets timid rather than resigned his interference won’t do good anyhow and remains more of an onlooker than a participant. His presence doesn’t turn on the heat or make the situation more highly charged or dangerous. It should. Shepard works at several levels, and Geffers’s production is adept at revealing some tough and salient information. Canuso is usually the herald of these facts, and he goes about his business as if he was a bored, tired old man who enjoyed his cantankerous, individualistic life, one that involved being a fool for love in a way different from Eddie and May, and is happy to be on the sidelines watching and commenting. As mentioned, Canuso has a wry way of delivering his news, adding some comedy to Geffers’s staging. What’s on stage can entertain, especially people without the unfair advantage of having expectations, but it is not a full-blown “Fool For Love.” Nor does it show why the play, and Shepard, last in the American canon to the point EgoPo artistic director Lane Savadove built a season around him. Next in that season in Savadove’s staging of “The Curse of the Starving Class.”

 

A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW — Inis Nua Theatre Company in the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, Hicks and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, 215-454-9776, www.inisnuatheatre.org, through Sunday, February 23 — Tatty Hennessy’s engagingly conversational monologue excites the imagination and warms the heart. Far from being the typical ’90-minute wonder’ that accounts for too much of today’s new works, “A Hundred Words for Snow,” tells an interesting story, hints instead of hammers at issues suggested by that story, and beautifully uses simple directness is a way that entertains, inspires, and moves us. Claire Moyer’s direction is flawless, and Satchel Williams is a loveable, inviting, and genuine as can be in her solo turn. Williams is so much into relating her character, Rory’s, experiences, she becomes exuberant in a way that is delightfully infectious. Hennessy is far from the common slouch that makes the ’90-minute wonder’ mostly polemic and usually built on one theme and heavy-handed scene reinforcing it. She is a born storyteller who fills her play with imagery and wins your support for her character and her choices at every turn. She knows how to build drama, infuse humor, supply detail, and include information. She develops scenes you can envision as Williams relates them and themes that gather poignance because they are included integrally in the storytelling, as opposed to being isolated and scolding. Rory has authentic adventures while on a quest to complete an unfulfilled wish of her late father. Her journey is brave and takes us to interesting, unknown locales rarely visited or described in literature. Even if we worry for the teenage heroine, possibly in over her head on occasion, we relish how much she absorbs and learns from the world, so different from her surroundings in London, as she proceeds on her quixotic yet revelatory and enlightening mission to make her Dad happy. About the only thing Hennessy makes you wonder about, even though she has a passage about it, as a playwright should, is why Rory so dislikes her lovely full name, Aurora, which seems to suit the character, particularly in the sunny, dawnings-every-sequence way Williams portrays her. Williams is so deft, Hennessy packs a geography lecture within “A Hundred Words for Snow,” and it’s as accessible and welcome as any sequence of the play and production. It also sets the background for Rory’s discoveries and ours. Encouraging, well-crafted, unself-conscious, and breezy plays like this come few and far between. Inis Nua, Williams, and Moyer do Hennessy as proud as any company could. Actress and director take time to paint what’s happening in a way that makes it vivid. Moyer fills moments by having Rory do practical things, such as pack, unpack, and pack while she speaks. Settings, even exotic, seemingly indescribable settings, are made clear by Williams’s thoughtful and friendly narration. Set designer Christopher Haig and lighting designer Amanda Jensen help with Haig’s sculpted icebergs that match in structure and texture all Rory describes and Jensen finding the blues, grays, and blinding whites Rory says she sees. “A Hundred Words of Snow” is not profound or a great work of art, and thank goodness. It’s a play that knows its business and entertains on an intelligent level while making us think and touching our emotions in a smart, genuine way.

 

OUTSIDE MULLINGAR — Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington, 302-594-1100, www.delawaretheatre.org, through Sunday, March 1 — Towards the end of Bud Martin’s involvingly enjoyable production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar,” Kim Carson’s no-nonsense Rosemary shoots a piercing stare, at once amused and incredulous, at Charlie DelMarcelle’s naïve Anthony, and dozens of things come into focus and are affected by that one shrewd and meaningful look, an expression Martin and Carson know is critical because the productions lingers on it for a few extra beats. Rosemary has been waiting for, and believes she has received, a sign that may free her from a busy but solitary and unexciting life in a village smaller than the already insignificant Irish town of Mullingar. Carson compacts and maximizes so much the aging but young-enough woman is feeling, including how dense her neighbor and companion, Anthony, is being, it imbues Shanley’s light but engaging piece and Martin’s deft direction of it with depth and impact. It provides a lovely moment, an epiphany, that tells us all we hoped for Rose and Anthony, and all their parents hoped for them, will come to be, and come to be happily. That path seems likely but isn’t clear as Shanley has three outspoken, and one shy but candid, Irishmen, letting their minds be known, convinced and unfiltered, from the moment the lights go up, and a father and son are bickering over the son inviting a family of a newly deceased neighbor to their home for some tea. Land, inheritance, lineage, and love are the subjects Shanley covers while the two families chew over the mundane, but in an way that becomes personal and is laced with one-liners that provide a lot of laughs. The village in which the characters live is quite remote. The inhabitants know little about anywhere else, although Rosemary longs to visit China, and everything about each other. Remember the old joke about Irish Alzheimer’s — forgetting everything but the grudges? Well, there’s a lot of that in “Outside Mullingar,” as Anthony’s father, Tony, lists his resentments, fears, and unreasonable solutions for both, and Rose’s mother, Aofie, is all about telling things as they are, including her premonition she won’t live long now that her husband is dead and her worry over Rosemary’s lack of romantic prospects, or even friends, to keep her company in her old age. Which is coming sooner than either Rose or Aofie like to acknowledge. Humorous enough banter, that seems to hover between Irish style and a parody of it, keeps things amusing enough until the meat of Shanley’s story comes to the fore. Rosemary has been wooed by every young man in the district but has shooed all of them away. Anthony prefers being alone in the pastures he farms and the adjoining woods and fields than in the company of others. He fancies himself a bumblebee buzzing around taking in and savoring the scenery while looking for a flower, in Anthony’s case an elusive flower, to land on and ferment. One has rejected all who asked. One, at age 42, is a virgin who’s never asked for anything. At least not since his heart war broken at age 16 by a woman who is now long married with three children. Anthony and Rose are the only two in all of their village, and in any theater in which “Outside Mullingar” plays, that don’t know they’re made for each other, and even they, on some level, suspect it. Shanley’s fun is placing the awakenings and revelations before our eyes, mostly for Anthony and Rosemary to miss or ignore. Martin’s skill is letting two consummate pros like Kim Carson and Charlie DelMarcelle take the fodder and build honest, nourishing theater from it, each creating a character that is likeable, even when obtuse or disagreeable, and interesting on his or her own, each lighting up or subtly changing enough about them for us to see and appreciate the sparks that arise when they meet. “Outside Mullingar” is a love story in which the course of love would run smooth if it weren’t for stubbornness, misunderstanding, Irish prudery, and the reluctance to speak first, especially about matters that are right before your nose. Carson and DelMarcelle aren’t alone in providing this flinty confection. Dan Kern is marvelous as the wrong-headed, pigheaded Tony Reilly, who overthinks the simple and needs enough neighbors to tell him he’s daft before it partially dawns on him they may have a point. Nancy Boykin provides womanly warmth as Rose’s mother, who  may be polite but isn’t afraid to admit her daughter is a handful and who wants reason to prevail in hope it will provide the best for everyone. Kern and Boykin have to carry the beginning scenes of the play, and they do so with the assurance of veterans who know how to wring that laugh or create that pathos without overdoing it or showing their craft-hone hands. Carson has more facets than the usual Rosemary. She forgoes obvious hardness to convey a feminine desire to care for someone, no matter what her impatience, blunt speech, and putdowns of Anthony might betoken.  You believe Carson’s Rosemary when she declares that if romance, or anything interesting, doesn’t occur soon she shall go mad. DelMarcelle is excellent in giving Anthony dimension and eliciting concern for him while remaining laconic, inhibited, and uncomfortable with life in general. The last thing this Anthony understands is Rosemary, even if he is vaguely aware he may have positive feelings about her. Martin builds well from the gossipy chatter of Tony and Aofie to the unorthodox, how-to-coax-their-feelings-to-the-surface byplay of Rosemary and Anthony, byplay that smacks of and leads to romance. Colin McIlvane neatly designs two contrasting kitchens, Anthony’s being rustic and limited to essentials, Rose’s looking modern, polished, and as if food preparation, and washing up after, takes place there. Thom Weaver’s lighting reflects moods and provides a lovely, subtle moment when a lovely, subtle moment is exactly what’s called for. Katherine Fritz does well by the costumes, and sound designer Michael Kiley is clever in how he sneaks renditions of “The Wild Mountain Thyme,” a folk song all the characters sing at one point, into his background score.

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