Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
February 14, 2014
What happens when circumstances force you to tap into deep wells within you… and something wholly unexpected emerges? In very different ways, two Obie Award-winning plays — a beloved 1984 farce and a quirky 2009 comedy — take their characters on an unpredictable journey to self-knowledge and genuine communication.
Lamb’s Players Theatre has hit paydirt twice before with Larry Shue’s wildly popular creation, “The Foreigner.” In the latest incarnation, director Kerry Meads shepherds an excellent ensemble, backed by the usual strong design work. At the center is funnyman Geno Carr as a self-effacing, pathologically taciturn Englishman left for three days at a lodge in rural Georgia. To calm Charlie’s terror of conversation, his buddy tells everyone that Charlie doesn’t speak any English.
Inventing a language and feigning lack of understanding, Charlie helps develop the self-esteem of dim bulb Ellard , wonderfully portrayed by Kevin Hafso-Koppman . He becomes privy to all kinds of secrets, including a nefarious plot concocted by a scary Klansman convincingly played, for the third time, by Stacey Allen. The nearly nonstop hijinks are punctuated by racist and xenophobic comments that remain all too familiar today. But most of the time it’s a laugh-fest, watching Charlie begin to relish his role as raconteur and confidant, developing a new sociability and personality. He and everyone else is changed by the experience.
Changes are taking place onstage at New Village Arts, too, in the offbeat, non-narrative “Circle Mirror Transformation,” written by Annie Baker, whom the New York Times recently called “ one of the freshest and most talented dramatists to emerge Off Broadway in the past decade .”
Her play is episodic and somewhat non-linear. It’s rife with repetition and unfilled pauses. There isn’t a traditional plot. And yet, by the end of nearly two intermissionless hours, we feel a deep knowledge of these five characters — their weaknesses, pain and failed relationships. Backstories, emotional wounds and private longings are revealed.
In a shabby community room in small-town Vermont, a six-week ‘Creative Acting’ class is being held. The loopy leader is a newbie at teaching this course. Her sometimes silly-seeming theater games are imaginatively used by the playwright to reveal character and history, inner turmoil and tentative efforts at bonding. Though the intention is to build perception, trust and listening skills, these exercises can be downright dangerous, especially in the hands of an inexperienced facilitator. The anonymous “Tell a secret you’ve never told anyone” radically alters the characters – and audience perception.
Under the skillful direction of Annie Hinton, the pitch-perfect casting inspires impressive authenticity. These damaged, floundering souls are richly inhabited by Dana Case, Tom Stephenson, Rhianna Basore , Eddie Yaroch and Sophia Richards.
There are dark recesses in both these comedies. And also intriguing insights.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” plays through March 2 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
“The Foreigner” continues through March 9 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
©2014 PAT LAUNER