Rachel Cornish and Julie Cavaliere in
The Awesome Dance
(Photo courtesy of the company)
Rachel Cornish and Julie Cavaliere in
The Awesome Dance
(Photo courtesy of the company)
Playwright Nick Starr displays an undeniable flair for quirky situations and zestful dialogue in the quartet of interrelated short plays that comprise The Awesome Dance, now playing at The Cherry Pit. Unfortunately, neither Starr nor director Maldina Sorci fully illuminate the underlying premise for the pieces (the characters are different incarnations of the same souls), resulting in a workman-like production that sparks with promise, but never proves fully satisfying.

In the first piece, Julie (Rachel Cornish) and Heather (Caitlin Talbot) meet in the waiting area outside of the inner sanctum of an unseen self-help guru. They are soon joined by Julie's friend Karen (Julie Cavaliere) and Don (Dileep Rao), a follower with a grudge. As with all of Starr's plays, the quartet's interactions end with an unexpected twist.

In the evening's second piece, Mark (Rao) and Amy (Cornish) are preparing to attend Mark's father's funeral, but are distracted by strains in their relationship. The arrival of Mark's sister Cary (Cavaliere) only exacerbates tensions, and ultimately, the play spins to a strained conclusion that involves a nun (Talbot) who is unexpectedly drawn into the familial fray.

The third play focuses on the events that transpire as Sand (Cornish) and Kit (Cavaliere) wait for an unseen woman to give birth in the next room to the child they hope to adopt. When the shamanic midwife (Talbot) facilitating the delivery hears their fighting, she offers guidance in the form of blazingly bizarre and confoundingly opaque allegorical stories. As it happens, though, nothing she could say could prepare them for the entrance of Josh (Rao), the biological father of the child being born. His presence merely reveals that the couple's squabbling has deeper roots than just nervousness about becoming parents.

The evening winds down with a play set among the upper echelons of society, in which Myles (Rao) finds himself used as a pawn by three sisters hosting a costume ball. It's an intriguing three cats against one mouse game that's enriched, remarkably, by the fact that Emma (Talbot) is channeling Heather from the first piece in the show, giving theatergoers their first true sense of what is tying all of the short plays together, and one can't help but wish that one had a stronger sense of the inter-relationship between them earlier.

Similarly, if the characters are reincarnations of others, one might expect to see pieces that span at least several decades, but nothing in the script, nor in Jessa-Raye Court's costume design, indicates different time periods. In fact, each play seems to be set in the present day.

Sorci does attempt to indicate the ways in which the characters are reconfiguring their inner lives for the next by having the performers rearrange the modular furniture that is a central feature of Sylviane Jacobson's spare scenic design within each play, but it ultimately seems like busywork rather than any true visual metaphor for the plays themselves.

Each member of the ensemble delivers the dialogue with aplomb and prove fully committed to Starr's quirky storytelling. While Cornish and Rao spark occasionally in their various roles, the standouts are Talbot and Cavaliere, who deliver terrifically nuanced performances, finding ways in which to recreate themselves in each character.