With their ongoing Play by Play project, Stageworks/Hudson continues to celebrate the craft and lure of the one-act play. This season the subtitle is “Shadows,” hinting at some dark mysteries or dim memories about ready to resurface.
Play By Play: ‘Shadows’
WHERE: Stageworks/Hudson, 41-A Cross St., Hudson
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $29-$18
MORE INFO: 822-9667 or www.stageworkshudson.org
Jointly directed by the theater’s executive artistic director, Laura Margolis, and artistic associate and literary manager, John Sowle, (each take on four of the eight plays on the menu), some prove well-prepared and rise to the theme, a couple need a trip back to the kitchen to complete the prep and one should be taken off the menu. But all are well-presented by the four assembled actors: Timothy W. Hull, Louise Pillai, Belvani Selvarajah and Donald Warfield.
Jesse Waldinger’s “The Loyalist” is set in North Carolina in 1775, where onetime lovers meet and discover that their missed opportunity for a greater happiness may have been due to a lack of loyalty and trust, something both have learned to master during the intervening years. The actors’ Scottish brogues may prove a difficult ken, but Warfield and Pellai make the motivations clear even if the spark of the love lost fails to ignite.
Zack Calhoon’s “Violence in the Air,” a breathless and fierce monologue, is a relentless ride. As he totters and lists on a New York City subway platform, power broker Chris raps with fury on that which has brought him to the brink of complete abandon. Hull’s take on Chris’ hopelessness may be too far to the angry side, distancing us from the message, but is a mesmerizing experience shocking to the core.
Grief and healing
Suzanne Bradbeer’s delicate “Okoboji” is a small moving exploration of grief and healing. Using water and wishes, Bradbeer buoyantly lifts and whispers hope with a beautiful story between two who loved one and left behind a shadow, for which both feel they are to blame. Selvarajah is perfection as a college student forced to connect with a man when she doesn’t know how to. And while Warfield as the grieving dad is over mannered and too twitchy, little damage is done, as Bradbeer’s dialogue is spare and pure. The moments created are truly touching.
By far the highlight of the whole evening is Zach Udko’s “The Claw of the Schwa.” Performed with laser precision by the downright hysterical Hull and the donnishly didactic Pellai, this erotic fantasy of diphthongs and open vowels is a marvelous mix of trills and flaps as teacher and student use bilabial play, uvular maneuvers and cumulative adjectives as they reach for some inspired interjections. Smartly directed by Sowle, every vowel and consonant in this David Ives-inspired word-fest is perfectly placed, and this play simply soars.
What could have been a clever two-hander exploring the delicate walk around critiquing one lover’s art and another’s passions, Yusef El-Guindi’s “The Review” is hampered by Margolis’ clunky direction allowing one actor to take a comic approach to the piece while the other’s is more dramatic. There may be many layers in El-Guindi’s work, but Margolis finds few, and the work plays as an awkward and intrusive peek into the private life of two cyber lovers who have so little in common you wonder what attracted them together in the first place.
Dreamlike and ethereal as it drifts in and hovers, offering an effective emotional shower, Al Sjoerdsma’s “Cloud” ponders the cruelties of Alzheimer’s from the inside out, packing an emotional wallop without the sting of tears. Warfield artfully delivers a simplistic narration as a delicately disquieted Hull and quietly devastating Pellai fold out a map on a journey that leads to an unthinkable hell.
The kindest axiom that can be attached to “The Jackals,” David Zellnick’s interpretation and re-imagination of an obscure Franz Kafka tale, “Jackals and Arabs,” proves, without question, that not all literary archaeologies are worth the dig and dust.
Ending the evening on a perplexing and unaffecting note, Ron Riekki’s “Carol” confuses and seems oddly empty. Listening to tunes as he drives through rain on a dark summer night, Alan is visited by girlfriends from his past who primp and coo, forcing Alan to — what? Where he is going and what he hopes to discover along the way is a mystery that the author decided not to share, and it leaves us all looking in the shadows of the back seat for some idea what baggage may lie there.
The menu is a mixed bag with the first act proving more satisfying than the second, but the idea of a theatrical a la carte is a nice and welcome change.