Thursday, May 7, 2015

R&J: A TELEPHONE PLAY or DON'T DRINK THE MILK • ERA

Of all the companies in town that go in for unconventional theatre, few come close to pushing the boundaries like Equally Represented Arts does. ERA’s latest offering premieres six new plays within the framework of a game of “telephone,” also known as “Don’t drink the milk.” The R&J of the title refers to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and in this case, the last scene of this tale of young love serves as the ‘original message.’ A recording of this act was sent to the first playwright who wrote a new play based on what they heard, and each successive playwright used a recording of the previous play as a jumping off point for their work. Cool, right? It is. It’s also a hectic, lively and sometimes disquieting evening of new work by some provocative playwrights (James Ryan Caldwell, Otso Huopaniemi, camila le-bert, John Douglas Weidner, Samara Weiss and Zhu Yi). With blooming love, growing pains and a kind of adolescent tumult at its center, with liberal doses of synchronized movement and dance, ERA, under Lucy Cashion’s direction, provides a bold, intriguing night of vignettes, wonderfully executed by her six-member ensemble — Mollie Amburgey, Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Carl Overly, Jr. and Rachel Tibbetts.

Carl Overly Jr., Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles,
Rachel Tibbetts, Cara Barresi and Mollie Amburgey.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
After a relaxed, pre-show start with the actors chatting, roaming around and stretching, they simultaneously begin to quote lines from “Romeo and Juliet”, creating a cool, clamorous din of sound. After that, things kick off with camila le-bert’s, “Rosaline Called”, finding Juliet (Rachel Tibbetts) wondering who this Rosaline is, why she’s calling her boyfriend, Romeo (Mitch Eagles), and the parents (Cara Barresi and Will Bonfiglio) stressing about their kid’s romance, and dating outside of their circles. The tolling of bells, a ringing phone and strobed lights signal the segue into the next play, bringing on Otso Huopaniemi’s, “Still Standing”, where the actors ponder how to write about what they just saw, frantically bouncing ideas off of each other, and is followed by Zhu Yi’s, “The Offended Audience”, where the actors pose as audience members, obliterating the fourth wall and sparring with each other, eventually receiving a phone call from God. “Number 4”, written by John Douglas Weidner, looks at unrequited love with Tibbetts who has hopelessly fallen for the school’s profane, arrogant bad boy, portrayed with gusto by Bonfiglio, while Eagles longs for her affection. The action is narrowed down to Eagles and Tibbetts in “Untitled”, written by Samara Weiss, where the duo compel and repulse each other, tentatively considering a new relationship.

Cara Barresi and Will Bonfiglio.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
In addition to certain characters taking turns with a swig or two of milk from a glass jug, after each vignette, one player is left out of a game of musical chairs, and the ousted actor retires under a laced sheet. The last play leaves us with Tibbetts as a hesitant bride in James Ryan Caldwell’s, “Two Character Play”, reminiscing about her younger days as she pours through old entries in her diary. Tibbetts turns in an excellent performance and ends the evening on a very strong note.

Well, almost the end. The performances of “R + J: A Telephone Play” are followed by an improvised version of a Shakespeare play, suggested by the audience and performed by the delightfully talented two-man improv group, Bodysnatchers.

Cashion’s minimal scenic design allows lots of room for the ensemble, with nice touches that include telephone receivers and bouquets hanging overhead, and columns of calendars on the wall. Meredith LaBounty provides the costumes, and the music is composed and performed by Charlie Mueller. The plays themselves are a little uneven, but the overall presentation is exciting and well worth seeing. You’ve got until this weekend to check it out!


Mitch Eagles and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
R&J: A TELEPHONE PLAY or DON'T DRINK THE MILK

Written by James Ryan Caldwell, Otso Huopaniemi, camila le-bert, John Douglas Weidner, Samara Weiss, Zhu Yi and William Shakespeare
Directed by Lucy Cashion
through May 8 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm

The Wedding Party:
Mollie Amburgey (Actor), Cara Barresi (Actor), Will Bonfiglio (Actor), Mitch Eagles (Actor), Carl Overly, Jr. (Actor) and Rachel Tibbetts (Actor).

Mitch Eagles, Carl Overly Jr.,
Cara Barresi, Mollie Amburgey and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg

Creative:
Scenic and sound design by Lucy Cashion; lighting design by Erik Kuhn; costume design by Meredith LaBounty; hair and make-up by Brooklynn McDade; musical composition and arrangement by Charlie Mueller; stage manager and assistant director, Gabe Taylor.

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