The three productions that round out Festival of Independent Theatres 2017’s opening volley (aside from Risk Theatre Initiative’s brilliant Stiff, reviewed separately) are standard fare for appropriate inclusion. David Meglino and his brainstorming crew know what they are doing in assembling this yearly puzzle. This enduring niche festival has a devoted audience; many will enjoy its opening shots. The three in question are short, quirky curiosities not meriting stand-alone production beyond festival or school setting. Not truly dreadful, not great works of art, but adequately entertaining for FIT’s regular crowd.
My critical responses, in order of preference:
- 1) The Boxer. Boot Straps Comedy Theater/Matt Lyle’s often referenced, silent film-style, romantic trifle with supportive period-style projection and live accompaniment by piano, a range of string instruments and well-timed sound effects. Premiered at FIT in 2007 to high acclaim. The audience, those who could actually see the show, laughed and clapped all the way through at the full house performance I attended. The accompanists, placed downstage right, excellent though they were, blocked visibility in a house that can be a challenge for viewing unless seated in the center of the center section.
Setting them upstage would work as well, if properly lit. Why inconvenience the audience not seated center center? I stood, dodging back and forth around a bathhouse pillar, in order to see most of the show and read most of what was on the projection screen. Most is the key word. As a mimed piece it seems to work crisply, with Kim Lyle, Jeff Swearingen and Jenny Webb capturing the silent film style and delivering the slapstick bits and gags with intrepid confidence. Mildly sexist humor feels a bit strained, outdated. Best part of it is the ingenious piano music, weaving excerpts from classic musical theatre songs into the ongoing underscore with thematic resonance and ease. Original music and design by B. Wolf, also the pianist. Johnny Sequenzia on string instruments and sound effects. The Boxer Fan Club will love, love, love it. Directed by Matt Lyle.
- 2) Finding the Sun by Edward Albee. Longtime FIT participant WingSpan Theatre Co. produces this lesser known and unremarkable, torchy domestic trifle by one of the greatest playwrights in the Western canon, proving that genius has its lesser moments. WingSpan producing director Susan Sargeant helms the play with her customary skill in delicate exploration of the nuanced scripts of the likes of Albee and Samuel Beckett. Acting is solid, with Robin Clayton and Jerry Crow giving particularly polished performances. Yet all four couples feel like caricatures, or early versions of something Albee lost interest in and never developed. It makes sense technically and visually, with top-notch costume design by Barbara C. Cox and stirring sound and image design by Lowell Sargeant. Compared to Wingspan’s superlative production at FIT 2016, Samuel Beckett’s Play, Finding the Sun doesn’t come out of the shade.
- 3) Another major FIT veteran company, Echo Theatre, stages Scottish playwright, author and academic Ali Smith’s earnest 1989 trifle Trace of Arc. Adapted and directed by Kateri Cale, with an all-female cast, this play simply tries too hard to sell its anti-complacency, anti-business, pro-activist social agenda. Its themes are overstated and strident with caricatures instead of characters inhabiting the stage. A disruptive woman named Conscience steps out of the house seats and addresses the audience (Pam Myers-Morgan) and repeatedly attempts to interrupt the facile, repetitive plot with varying degrees of success. One character, playing an array of store customers, converses exclusively in advertising slogans. The play ends on a dark note, clearly meant to be profound. British accents by the cast are tentative at best. Natalia Borja gives the most believable performance as a conflicted shop worker trying to do her job in spite of the ongoing distractions appealing to her “conscience”. Echo Theatre routinely mounts unique, woman-focused productions, wish they had chosen a more worthy vehicle for FIT.
The Festival of Independent Theatres continues through August 5 at Bath House Cultural Center on the east shore of White Rock Lake. Four more plays open this coming weekend, produced by Audacity Theatre Lab, The Basement, LIP Service. and Dustin Curry and Company