Heavy Hors D’Oeuvres – Yum Yum
A REVIEW BY RIVER STYX
I recently helped read some plays written by primary and secondary school students for a young playwrights festival. About 96 percent of them were hard to get through, because they were either eh or completely outlandish and directionless (ex. one had Russians, North Koreans, ISIS AND aliens working together to annihilate the U.S., but there was no plan. Or character development. Or story. Just “Call North Korea. We need nukes.”—Russian. “Call ISIS. We need more soldiers.” – Alien “Let’s kill the Americans.” —Everyone. [Not going to lie, I would kind of like to see this play. It’s the way I imagine Congress operates. – TBO]). But four percent of the hundreds of plays submitted were pretty damn entertaining.
I’m not sure what percentage the three new works Interrobang Theatre Company presents in its Heavy Hor D’Oeuvres showcase are from the company’s December call for new play submissions, but they are tasty tidbits of new theater (bah-dum-bum).
From the live accordion and guitar music to the spoken word bookending the three one-acts, I was impressed with the level of professionalism at the intimate 44-seat Mercury Theater in Station North (which Interrobang is sub-leasing from the Baltimore Improv Group). This is Interrobang’s third production since coming into the Baltimore theater world in January 2014 and second time at the Mercury, where the group’s Leveling Up won best show at 2014’s Charm City Fringe Festival in the fall.
Four of the five Interrobang staffers act in and/or direct all three plays, which also feature actor Erin Hanratty. I’ll just say it now before I get into each play individually, every single person on stage in the Heavy Hors d’Oeuvres showcase is engaging, talented and a pleasure to watch. Even though the plays themselves will only get better with more development, Interrobang’s actors lifted these words to an impressive level. Lifting her own words is spoken word artist Mabelle Fomundam, whose strong arms deliberately expressed her sensual (as in senses, not romantic) commentary on experiencing moments. She, like the four actors, has wonderful stage presence. Her performances opened and closed the showcase, which also featured a lovely addition of live music from Jack Sossman and Matt Beale.
Interrobang Managing Director Kiirstn Pagan directs playwright and UMBC senior Joy Etukudo’s “Happy,” with a homeless dad and daughter duo searching in pill bottles and a collection of candy wrappers for that nice, warm feeling. The story focuses on an emotionally stunted 16-year-old (Hanratty) and her prescription pill-popping dad (Interrobang Director of Development David Brasington) who talk about being happy a lot while warming their hands by a fire. Fire makes Nina happy. Pills make dad Ben happy. Ripping wings off butterflies and collecting them in a jar until there are 1,000 of them for a wish to come true makes Nina’s hallucination, “Guy,” happy. Interrobang Development Coordinator Brady Whealton is very Robin Goodfellow as he prances from the back of the theater onto stage, and swings around his jar of butterfly wings. He seems happy, but in a kind of crazy “I took molly and anyone who collects 1,000 things can feel good, too” [Mmmhmm.-TBO] kind of way. Hanratty as Nina is effective in the role, and her final moments with Brasington’s character were quite touching.
Brasington directs the second one-act, “Circus, Circus,” by Amy Bernstein. There’s a jester who speaks in rhymes and a lady playing a man pretending to be a Russian peacekeeper, a hysterical housewife and a dead dog. The script has potential to dig deeper into symbolism for blind discrimination, but the play was mainly enjoyable for Whealton’s ever-addicting energy as a jester, and a compelling Katie Hileman (Interrobang’s artistic director) as a ho-hum husband who speaks with a Russian accent and wears a Hitler mustache as a jester-hating peacekeeper. Hileman makes the character, “Ivan/Dorian,” quite endearing. He comes off as a well-intentioned sweetheart who is really devoted to the nonsensical rules he enforces. When his wife “Sue Ellen” (played by Hanratty, who effortlessly slips into stereotypical emotional housewife) flusters into his work area, he flips into an almost John Candy-like everyman and pleads with her to go home. Hileman easily switched between the two personas without ever falling into caricature.
Closing the play showcase is “Broken,” which is the most polished and intriguing of the three. It’s written by the playwright with the longest bio in the press release, Juanita Rockwell. Rockwell is a theater heavyweight whose impressive resume includes being founding director of Towson University’s theater MFA, a Fulbright and National Endowment for the Arts recipient and winner of a Maryland Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Playwriting. All of this shows in “Broken,” an imaginative look at the inner world of a woman who has suffered a stroke. Lorraine (played admirably by Hanratty) sees herself as a young woman in her favorite dress from 1963. She sees her nurse Nicole (a wonderfully Ru Paul-esque Whealton) as her grandson Theo. Whealton also plays chef Theo, who Lorraine also talks to. She sees her husband, Mac (Brasington – still solid in his second acting role of the evening), as her better-looking first girlhood crush. I loved a lot about this play because of Rockwell’s inventive script, with highlights such as incorporating gibberish words into sporadic dialogue to convey the confusion Lorraine feels. “Broken” is a treat. Here’s where the showcase title comes full circle – you get an actual treat (a lemon sugar cookie, which Lorraine and Theo hand out to each audience member with tongs as they sing).
THE BOTTOM LINE: Heavy Hors D’Oeuvres is an enjoyable evening of new theater tidbits that gives a taste of what this young and impressive company can do. Stellar performances, thoughtful staging and promising new works showcase Interrobang’s level of professionalism and leave the audience hungry for more.
Running at The Mercury Theatre through Saturday, March 28th.
Contact Styx at: firstname.lastname@example.org.