KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 23, 1998
Remember that old seventies TV show — “Love, American Style”? Well, now you can see the late nineties version — live, onstage. The original was a paean to a simpler time, with silly little tiffs and love conquering all. The current theatrical evening comprises three one-act plays that show a twisted rendition of what can happen when marital games, filial devotion, religious uprighteousness and sibling revelry run amok.
Actors D. Candis Paule and Fred Harlow teamed up to co-produce the evening, under the company name of Don’t Force the Tool Productions. As a result of their experiences in New York, successfully producing plays on the subject of sex while selling cider at intermission, they dubbed the event “Because Sex and Cider Sells.” After we entered St. Cecilia’s, my husband turned to me and whispered, “The cider’s a dollar. I wonder how much the sex costs.”
Actually, in an effort to give back to the community, and to encourage others to do the same during this holiday season, the evening of “Sex and Cider” is a lot cheaper if you bring a can of food to the theater.
Okay, so all that is backstage and off stage, what’s happening onstage? Three brief but lightweight plays by three well-respected playwrights.
The first, “The Problem” by A.R. Gurney, is an uptight, highly WASPified cross between Albee’s “…Virginia Woolf” and Pinter’s “The Lover,” though it’s nowhere near as deep or disturbing as the former and not as cynically humorous as the latter. All concern married couples’ dangerous games. Director Bryan Bevell also directed the Pinter play several years ago at the Fritz. That production was much more biting and edgy. Of course, so was the play, but this pas de deux, by Sherri Allen and John Steed, is rather flat and colorless. He’s a stodgy college professor and they have a rather boring life but a pretty kinky (fantasy) “ sex-life.
Allen is funny, and she, in fact, proves to be the most versatile actor of the evening — both in appearance and performance style. But as acted and directed, the piece just isn’t funny, and it should be.
Play number two, Romulus Linney’s “F.M.,” introduces a lackluster teacher leading a creative writing class in rural Alabama. Her students are two very Southern, very puritanical women, one all phony sweetness and flowers, the other, angry and severe, hilariously played by M Susan Peck and Sherri Allen again. They’re both dreadful writers, and they are repelled beyond imagining by the person and the writing of their fellow student, one Buford Bullough, played to slovenly Southern-fried excess by Fred Harlow. He writes compellingly about mother-son incest, and it’s not quite clear how autobiographical his piece is, but only the teacher sticks around to see. Her character, as played by Candis Paule, is underdeveloped and dull, compared to the three vivid personalities that make up her class.
The third piece is the most satisfying but also the most disturbing. The best-known of the three plays, Lanford Wilson’s “Home Free” concerns a sister and brother in a very, very, very sick relationship. Besides the fact that, in their agoraphobic paranoia, they almost never leave their apartment, it seems that the sister is pregnant by her brother, and things aren’t going so well, inside and out. Their little games and mutual delusions recall the unsavory capers of the couple in the first play. Harlow and Paule play off each other well, and their interactions skillfully devolve from playful to pathetic. And David Weiner constructed the perfect playhouse for these warped little womb-mates.
If you find yourself growing increasingly perverse during this holiday season, you can have some sex and cider, or view “The Mutilated” at the Fritz, which I’ll be happy to describe for you soon. Till then, happy mall-crawling….
And don’t forget Gift-Tix, the ideal stocking-stuffer for performing arts fans, redeemable at over 60 local venues… As the clever publicity from the San Diego Performing Arts League goes, “All I Want for Christmas is my two front seats!” Play on!
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.