Theatre

We first meet Clea as she traipses into the great room of a sky-high Manhattan penthouse, enraptured by the “surreal” view. Looking on disdainfully are Charlie (Mark Montgomery), an actor who has been struggling to get cast lately, and his wing-man Lewis (La Shawn Banks).

In the world of theater, a gushing ingénue making a breathless entrance is something that has been seen before, to put it mildly. Charlie for one is not impressed. 

In short order, though, we sense there may be more to this young woman, and these men, than first appears. As it happens, the party is in the home of an actor-writer on the rise, and his older, wealthy patron. Charlie is there hoping to rub shoulders with him, and maybe get a role in his new production.

Clea (Deanna Myers blazes in the role) is on a similar mission – though at this point in her career she is less certain about how things will play out. She is also a font of inanity – “Food is, like, disgusting to me,” she avers, claiming never to eat. “Most things people put in their mouths, it is totally just like eating death. Someone proved that eating is killing people." 

Charlie and Lewis are agape at Clea. Charlie clearly finds her exaggerated pronouncements aversive, while Lewis nods and puts on about the phoniest show of interest imaginable - miming that attraction men sometimes feel despite (or perhaps because of) knowing better.  

Poured into snug-fitting couture and clearly master of her heels, Clea reads, accurately, the mocking tone in Charlie’s desultory conversation. When he asks her how the view can be “surreal,” sparks begin to fly in what turns out to be a harbinger of later romance.   

This is also the first inkling we have that Clea is more femme fatale than ingénue.  She vacillates from helpless to heated. In due course, she reveals a grab-bag of information about herself, and observations on life in general. Her mother is an alcoholic, so she doesn’t drink. People are just not "awake" to life.  

She has recently arrived from Ohio hoping to make her break in New York. She eventually asks for that vodka – just this one time – and becomes even more voluble. Clea reveals she has applied for a position on a television production team – and does a send-up of the woman who interviewed her, describing a “Nazi priestess” of talent bookings, by the name of Stella. As it turns out, Stella is Charlie’s wife - and fatefully, the unrequited love of Lewis.

Clea came there intent on making an impression. And oh she does in Meyers’s super-charged performance. In later scenes, after she has vanquished Lewis, she moves on to seduce Charlie, ultimately triggering his downfall by overstaying a tryst - so the two get caught by Stella.

Charlie eventually ends up on the street, having cast aside his stable life with Stella. (The story line draws on Waugh's of Human Bondage, according to playwright Therese Rebeck.)

The couple was about to adopt a child. Perhaps the prospect of parenthood was too great a strain on Charlie. Fear of parenthood is a classic romance killer, but under Kimberly Seniors direction we are witness to Charlie's action, but not his motivation. Stella also is a bit of a caricature, slipping into Spanish when her blood gets boiling.  Lewis, meanwhile, has played this marriage's third wheel from the opening scene, defending Stella against critiques. The trio has a reasonable chemistry in scenes, but Stella seems overplayed, and Lewis underplayed when they are alone together. 

As to Clea: Viper? Seductress? Ingénue? Trollop? Those old-fashioned words don’t quite apply, as Clea owns her sexuality, and is aware of where she is heading. She seems at once incisive, and empty-headed.

“How can you know so much and so little at the same time?” as Charlie asks.

Waugh’s classic, Of Human Bondage, was filmed three times. And The Scene was also made into a movie - Seducing Charlie Barker. 

In The Scene, the eventual affair with Clea leads to Charlie’s downfall, and his wife Stella’s departure, among other things. While the performance by Myers is captivating, and the chemistry between Stella (Charin Alvarez), Lewis and Charlie is convincing, I struggled to find empathy with anyone other than Clea – a rather villainous protagonist.

The glass and steel set is striking, and works really well through all the scenes. The furnishings were dead on, very Blue Dot Catalog. Likewise the costumes, down to the men's shoes.  Brian Sidney Bembridge did sets;  Nan Zabriskie costume; Sarah Hughey, lighting; Richard Woodbury, original music and sound design; and Scott Dickens handled props. 

Running through April 2 at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, The Scene comes recommended, especially to see Deanna Myers.

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 24 February 2015 06:00

The Royale at American Theatre Company

American Theatre Company and veteran TV writer Marco Ramirez collaborate to bring this boxing drama to life. Loosely inspired by the real life of Jack Johnson, 'The Royale' tells the story of a young African American heavyweight champ, Jay Jackson, and his rise to fame for usurping a title from the standing white champion. Set against the backdrop of the turn-of-the-century Jim Crow era South, we’re shown a world in which fame can transcend political boundaries, or at least provide the illusion of such.

'The Royale' stars Jerod Haynes as Jay, the fast-talking fighter who brings a unique clarity to the mindset of a character who would likely be pretty punchy after fifteen years of professional boxing. We meet Jay in the spotlight of the ring in a fight against his soon-to-be sparring partner Fish (Julian Parker). Parker's subtle performance is an unexpected gem in this slightly overwrought drama. The eleven o'clock performance in this short-lived epic is that of Mildred Langford in the role of Nina, Jay's sister who comes to warn him about the potential race war his win could cause.

The major issue plaguing this play is not the fascinating direction by Jaime Castaneda nor the incredible sets designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge. What this script suffers from is brevity. A troubling new trend in playwriting, perhaps borrowed from TV writing, is the 90 minute drama. It works when the script can fill the entire hour and a half block, but when it cuts closer to 70 minutes, it makes it nearly impossible for an audience to invest.

Still, despite the length of this new play, Ramirez's succinctness tells a complete story, however brief. The achievement is to tell such a short story without sacrificing depth, of which there is plenty here.

The Royale at American Theatre Company. 1909 West Byron Street. (773) 409-4125. Through March 29th

*-Jerod Haynes as Jay in Chicago premiere of The Royale at American Theater Company. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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