I want to support emergent theatre companies with their shiny, new endeavors. I look eagerly forward to attending fresh, energized productions. But when the fragile fledgling spreads its wings, flops from the nest and plummets downward, I‘m obliged to speak truth. Enter Stage Left has just birthed such a bird. Launching on Teatro Dallas’ elongated, narrow performance space with Patrick Marber’s 1997 multiple award–winning drama Closer, Enter Stage Left made an ambitious choice for an initial venture. Set in London with lots of Brit vernacular and reference, good decision the company did not attempt the corresponding accents. Unfortunately, the text gets muddied by Americanized delivery. That’s for starters.
This production disappoints. Sappy. Maudlin. Ponderous. Unfocused. Unconvincing. Points of concern: 1) pace –funereal; 2) tone – one tortured, lengthy “emo” moan, scene after choppy scene 3) direction – hard to detect: the production lacks tension, suspense, mystery, integration and follows no well-defined arc 4) acting – sigh. One solid, believable performance: Chad Cline as Larry, with fifteen years of professional acting experience in film, commercials and stage work. He develops a multi-faceted, living persona, reveals telling, contrasting glimpses into his character’s dark side and higher nature in a steady, naturalistic manner. He understands how to utilize silence, how to allow the space, the pause moments, to shape his conversation. It’s a solo gig. The other three performers, Samantha Chancellor, Chad Halbrook and Jessica Layman, well intentioned and earnest, exhibit a range of melodramatic shtick that includes eye rolling, shoulder twitching, sighing, grimacing, wailing and…well, the superficial. No clear motivations. Buckets of crocodile tears.
Consider the women’s costumes. They do nothing to enhance the two actresses’ physical attributes, as required by the play’s emphasis on “woman as sex object.” Samantha Chancellor, a young woman with a promising, attractive face and an interesting voice and delivery, plays a stripper. But her physical being doesn’t match any sort of sex kitten image. No cleavage in a stripper? A different bra needed…. And a baby doll nightie would far better help her fit the role’s demands in the men’s club scene, The play’s “other woman”, a photographer, (Jessica Layman) looks ill at ease in her poorly conceived and oddly fitting costumes. She deserves a total re-think and a re-do, from the lifeless flat hair style worn throughout to her awkward, tight cocktail dress to the out of character shoes her husband brings her as a gift. Aside from the costume challenges, once she puts down her first scene’s prop camera, her performance waffles in confusion for the play’s duration, as though the actress got little direction and has no clue how to move or think or feel like the character she portrays. What a peculiar realization of a potentially meaty role.
The background music scoring the production certainly reinforces the pervasive “emo” mood, which does not align well with the play’s hard-edged tone. On a positive note, the lighting is crisp and professional; screen projection of an early scene, an e-mail interchange of a faux sex fantasy between the two male characters, works excellently.
Here’s yet another play about despondent, spoiled, well heeled malcontents. They puff cigarette smoke in each other’s faces, spout the f and c words liberally, occasionally take a swipe at each other and obsess about sex and broken relationships, sobbing out their sullied dreams in oceans of self-pity. Enter Stage Left’s mission statement says the company “seeks to…explore current and timeless human issues.” Hope for more artistically satisfying results in the company’s future productions. Ouch. Patrick Marber’s Closer, directed by Jason Folks, runs through April 18 at Teatro Dallas, 1331 Record Crossing Rd. Dallas, TX 75235, an Enter Stage Left inaugural production.
Tickets on the web: http://www.EnterStageLeft.org