Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review - Meredith's Ring and Anonymous (White Rabbit Theatre and Cuchipinoy Productions, and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Presented together as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Meredith's Ring and Anonymous both have one common plot point, a baby given up for adoption. Other than this, they tell completely different stories in very different ways.

Meredith's Ring by Andrew Rothkin is a coming-of-age tale in which an awkward teen, A.J. (Alexander Scally), experiences the first blush of love and sexual awakening with the new girl at his school. Meredith (Shelly Work) seems to be everything that A.J. isn't - brash, an outsider, angry, and more than anything else, mysterious. It's the mystery that surrounds her that makes her irresistible to him. As he draws closer to her, she at turns pulls him in and pushes him away, all the while nursing a hidden past, and trying to cover her vulnerabilities with bluster.

A.J., not used to women, and certainly not someone as complex as Meredith, constantly says and does the wrong thing. When the two find out that Meredith is pregnant, they make desperate plans to run away together. And while the resolution of the play really comes as no surprise to the audience, it is saved from cliche by A.J.'s touching monologue about his hope for the future, and two very earnest performances by Scally and Work.

As a director, Rothkin has a tendency to overcomplicate things. The production features a number of set changes and lighting and sound cues which due to technical problems, most noticeably with the sound, didn't work well at the performance I attended. Given that this is a festival, he could easily have pared down the technical aspects to the bare minimum and still have had an interesting production. Hopefully these issues merely opening day glitches and were ironed out in later performances.

Meredith's Ring features terrific set decoration by designer Yveyi Yi - two large hanging pieces that look like the type of collage created by teenagers in their school notebook. Featuring picture of places that are to play a part in the show, not to mention holding props that are Velcroed to its surface, the pieces are a very nice and effective addition to the play.

Rodney E. Reyes' Anonymous has a completely different tone. Where Meredith's Ring covers its message with a wide-eyed earnestness, Anonymous tends to mask its in vulgar humor and sullen anger. The results are decidedly mixed.

Anonymous is set in a police station, late shift. While it's just another night for Sarge (Tom Blewitt) to try to keep his rookie partner (Jian Huang) out of trouble, for the Rook, it's the end of a nice Father's Day weekend. By drawing out his taciturn partner, Rook finds out that Sarge once had a family, but that they have been estranged for years. He hasn't even seen his daughter in since she was a child. This revelation leads Rook to locate Sarge's teenage daughter (Vanessa Ramalho). The resulting meeting does not go at all well, and leads to the revelation of a number of hidden truths about Sarge's past, and an interesting look at what it means to take responsibility for a life that you've brought into the world.

The main story in Anonymous hinges on a series of hard to swallow coincidences, but theatre is often build on such stuff. In this case, the important thing is the examination of the relationship between Sarge and his daughter, and between both Sarge and his daughter and her newborn baby. Unfortunately, the deeper message is often lost in poor production values. Director Taylor Keith has too light of a touch for this production, allowing the pace to drag, even in what should be some incredibly intense moments . Blewitt exacerbates this slow-down by letting long pauses infiltrate his dialogue. Instead of indicating Sarge's reticence to display emotion in front of Rook and his daughter, it often has the feel of not being sure what the next line is because of a lack of intensity underneath his silences. Huang makes up for this by making Rook a manic character, but he comes dangerously close to clowning. Ramalho hits a middle ground between the two. Her character's silences carry hidden weight, and her explosions of activity seem grounded in actual frustration for the situation she finds herself in.

Mario Corrales has designed an interesting set, especially given other plays' tendency to strip down to next to nothing in this festival, and Keith has made good use of it, including an interesting set flip toward the end of the play that changes the audience's point-of-view. It's a nice touch in an otherwise very uneven production.

Meredith's Ring
Written and Directed by Andrew Rothkin
Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Tina Rogalski
Assistant Stage Manager: Chaz Muth
Lighting Designer and Sound Designer: Jeremy Pape
Set Designer: Yveyi Yi
Produced by White Rabbit Theatre

Featuring: Alexander Scally (A.J.) and Shelly Work (Meredith)

Written by Rodney E. Reyes
Director: Taylor Keith
Managing Director: Anna Payumo
Stage Manager: Eileen Gaughan
Set Designer and Technical Director: Mario Corrales
Produced by Cuchipinoy Productions

Featuring: Tom Blewitt (Sarge), Jian Huang (Rook), Vanessa Ramalho (Alanis)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

June 13 1:00 PM
June 13 7:00 PM
June 14 3:00 PM
June 20 11:00 AM
June 20 5:00 PM
June 21 5:00 PM

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