This Magic Moment...


An Evening of One-Acts

Oberon Theatre Ensemble production, Closed

Brad Fryman, artistic director

review by Louis Lopardi, Feb. 9, 2006

The evening of comic one-acts was presented in the Clurman Theater on Theater Row. Good costuming and minimal settings were true to the spirit of Off-Off Broadway (Scenic Coordinator was Beatrice Bass). The many set changes went smoothly and quickly (Emileena Pedigo Stage-Managed). Pamela Kupper provided the repertory lighting plot - a simple but well utilized design that, for instance, subtly warmed the interior of a general store as the afternoon wore on.

Shaw’s "Village Wooing" is often perceived as an early draft in that it contains so many of Shaw’s saws about sexism and power. It is actually a late work (1934) written a decade or more after all the major works. It is not an outlining of his pet interests but rather a distillation. As such it serves perfectly as the frontespiece of Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s winter offering: All In One. a collection of comic 1-acts. Two of the three Shaw scenes open the two halves of the show. Presented in this manner the passing of time between the scenes is palpable, and the double casting reinforces the universality of the sentiments.

The "First Conversation" featured Annmarie Benedict and Walter Brandes, who, thanks to their classical training and bearing, were both at ease in Shaw’s choppy waters while at sea on the Empress of Patagonia. The highly structured directing by Don Jordan was refreshing in this era of eclectic stage direction. The "Third Conversation," directed by Rachel Wood, attends the couple some time later and featured an impeccable Jarel Davidow as the man/shopkeeper, now employer to the young woman - Karen Sternberg, a skillful actress who need only discover how to apply a Shakespearian aside in Shaw (they are the same) to become a formidable powerhouse. Her "this magic moment" speech ("when the moment comes, the world of the senses will vanish...") truly was "pure paradise."

Rich Orloff’s short play "Lion Tamer" has a giddy lightness to the writing, but depends ultimately on some deft physical acting for success. Walter Brandes directed with an eye to details. William Laney played a man examining a potential apartment. The current occupant, wryly played by a suitably understated Margaret Flanagan, implies that liaisons with her may prove disastrously volatile.

The anchor in act one was Chekhov’s masterly "The Bear: A Jest In One Act." This is not the whimsy of "Uncle Vanya" or the bittersweet resigned humor of "Cherry Orchard," but a life-sketch dashed off with broad strokes. Chekhov had a Zen-like sensitivity to what he called the "sad comedy underlying everyday life" - the continuity of all emotional phases of existence.

Acting a little too hard at first, Laura Siner found her character and presented her cleanly, with a minimum of fussiness. As the grief-burdened widow Popova she stood up to the brash Smirnov - a boorish neighbor with a debt to collect. This fiery duetto was wonderfully supported by the nimble characterization of Grace Pettijohn as the servant Luka; She was hysterical in a deft bit of upstaging during a truly operatic trio scene before the near duel.

Director Christopher Thomasson pulled this sprawling world-theater together with a sure, light touch. Brad Fryman, Artistic Director of Oberon, gave Smirnov life. His was a great, vibrating bear of a character, snuffing the air and barging through the forest of life. When brought water, he relished it as one should who truly understood how painstaking the preparation of a glass of water was in a society ravaged periodically by cholera. His off-centered lurch while listening to Popova’s fidelity speech ("a true and faithful man... well, that is something new") spoke volumes about the man without pulling focus from her. This was perfect Chekhov.

"The Mystery At Twicknam Village" by David Ives is a sendup of the drawing room murder mystery. We’ve had many of these lately; it’s an easy genre to spoof. This version is not just a spoof on the genre, but a spoof as well of contemporary dramatic method in general (especially screen-writing). The cast maintained good accents and diction, but some who stressed the wrong word in phrases before did so here as well. (It’s not artistic license, not when it clouds the meaning.) Directed by Philip Emeott; he and the cast (and audience) clearly had as much fun with this as the author did.

The high point of act two was "Well Laid Desert," a new play by Walter Brandes, well directed with an eye for the big picture by Eric Parness. This is finely crafted playwrighting - the beats so perfectly placed by an author with an experienced actor’s ear for pacing. Though it opens in a bleak and dusty road in the desert, we actually feel the missing preceding and following scenes as tangibly as if we had lived them. We know these people intimately, thanks in large part to this intelligent and talented trio’s ability to delineate their characters within an uncanny five seconds. Philip Emeott, a powerfully focused actor, played Jim. Ryan C. Tamont played Hudson as the cool, six-pack philosopher of the group. And James T. Ware as Sam bolstered all with good solid support and range.

The producers promised an evening "that could save your life." It was hard, by evening’s end, not to think of the observation made by the man in Shaw’s opener: "We must take the world as we find it. It's we that are not rightly arranged."