Brian Foyster deserves congratulations for adapting and performing John Knowles' 1959 minor classic, A Separate Peace, now at the Connelly Theater, so extremely well. What comes through in this multi-character solo show is that Foyster possesses an unmistakable empathetic appreciation for Knowles' heartbreaking story.
Told by the now 30-something Gene Forrester on returning to his staid New England prep school, the tale recounts Gene's complex friendship 15 years earlier (in 1942) with Phineas, one of those golden boys who so frequently crop up in fiction. Finny (as he's called) is not only a natural athlete, but a natural at everything to which he turns his hand and the rest of his supple physique -- if not his studies.
Finny is such a happily guileless young man that his impermeable affect begins to gnaw at Gene. Ultimately, Gene's conflicted feelings towards his roommate and best friend lead him to commit an irreversible unpremeditated act on the long and treacherous branch of a landmark campus tree from which they both leap daily as a show of derring-do.
Under Jason McConnell Buzas' fine and never-frenzied direction, Foyster brings the profound yet muted emotion needed to illustrate this still-moving tale -- which continues to gain fans more than 50 years after its publication. Indeed, as good as the show is, it is a worthy supplementary offering to the novel, rather than a substitution.
-- David Finkle
The show charts the comeback that fictional screen legend Lila Halliday (a resolute, but somewhat miscast, Donna Bullock) attempts to achieve in pop music. In fact, almost everyone is basically just a stereotype who spouts clichés, from the cutthroat record company owner -- and Lila's one-time flame - Jeff Rollins (Bruce Sabath) to the sexy-as-sin younger rocker Dan Riley (Jay Wilkison), who finds himself inspired by Lila, even as she finds herself invigorated by his attentions.
All three actors turn in solid performances, but they are overshadowed by the satisfyingly quirky turns delivered by Wayne Wilcox as a wannabe songwriter and Sarah Litzsinger as an on-the rise singer. Indeed, the show's highpoint may very well be Litzsinger's delivery of the disco-version of "Destiny," a hokey sort of torch song that Lila originated in one of her films
The song is one of the few gems in the score from composer Gary William Friedman and lyricist Will Holt. Friedman's melodies, which are heard in the production in less than optimal effect in piano-only arrangements, are genuine attempts to bring a 70s pop sound into the theater. Unfortunately, Holt's lyrics are filled with rhymes that are often as weak as the book (which he originally wrote with Bruce Vilanch). When we need platinum, we get tin!
-- Andy Propst
The play opens with Other (Elizabeth McNelis) grilling He (Jeff Kreisler) in an aggressively flirtatious way about which famous male celebrities he would theoretically have sex with and in what positions. Maybe it's not the most typical first date conversation, but this is not a typical first date. It's revealed soon after that He is married to Other's friend, She (played with subtle acerbic wit by Anne Teutschel.) Nonetheless, Other soon seduces He, and the rest of the play's 85 minutes is spent dealing with the fallout from that night.
At first, it's kind of refreshing to see such a deconstructionist take on sexual nature that focuses on primal urges. But, surprisingly for a play that talks so much about sex, it comes across as very cold. McNelis exudes Other's hyper-sexuality being trapped inside a frustrated lawyer, but the dialogue she's forced to speak betrays the truth of her character. Towards the middle of the play, she has a lengthy monologue that details her past adventures and desires, but they never feel like anything other than words.
The strongest scene comes when She confronts He about his affair and makes her husband recall it in graphic detail, leaving them both uncomfortably and surprisingly raw. It's the only time in the show when there seems to be a real momentum driving the dialogue -- and it also proves that there's a good play waiting to get out about these characters if Papa is willing to dig deeper and find it.
Writer Jason Powell dabbles in some of the delicious trope of the genre and mixes in a dollop of Star Trek and Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a campy (but not excessively so) musical that's also an homage to two often misunderstood forms of entertainment. And if you're looking for serious production design, think again -- my high school production of Sweet Charity looked like a big-budget musical in comparison.
Powell also plays Jack Warner, an ordinary Joe who ends up on a spaceship with a colorful ensemble of aliens and secret agents. That's after his bride-to-be, Jennifer, aka Gravonica (Robyn Ferrari), reveals that she actually came into his life because of an intergalactic mission (but she really fell in love with him too!). As they set off to battle a treacherous demon, Jack actually takes a backseat for much of the first act to some kick-ass female characters, including a secret agent (Alison Scaramella) and her all-gal entourage and the captain of an alien battleship (Katherine Cardin).
Powell's clever lyrics bolster the charmingly odd premise (there's even a Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter song) and Rebecca Hengstenberg wrests good performances from her young cast. There's not enough here, however, to sustain a one-hour-and-45-minute show. Still, Powell's strange sense of humor can engage within the right infrastructure; perhaps he should try a superhero operetta next?
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