TWN’S "MERE MORTALS" WITTY, EDGY FUN
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has brought forth the perfect antidote to the chilly, gray days of early spring: "Mere Mortals," a series of brilliant one-act pays by the master of short form, playwright David Ives.
Acted and directed with energy, wite and impeccable timing, the eight short plays deliver bushels of laughter as they pursue their provacative, sometimes edgy conceits to the outermost borders of absurdity and hilarity.
Theatre Workshop has substituted freely for half of the plays in the published version of "Mere Mortals," eliminating three of the original collection of six one-acts, while adding five others from Ives' extensive collection of work. Happily, those swaps add some of his best one-acts, significantly strengthening the roster of plays.
Theatre Workshop's opening production for 2017 features a local cast with five island directors, and the production flows seamlessly from one piece to the next, with enough tonal variations to engage the audience fully in 90 minutes of highly-entertaining theater.
The effective set by Vince Veilleux is designed to look like a generic backstage, with the entire roster of actors lounging about and watching as their cohorts claim their time at center stage.
The first one-act, "Moby Dude," features a monologue by a 17-year-old student, Nathaniel, played with attitude and zest by Caleb Beidelman. To convince his teacher that he has completed his summer reading of "Moby Dick," the student delivers a brief, very funny summary of the famous novel and its purported symbolism. Emily Glazier directed the skit.
"English Made Simple" explores the awkward social interactions of Jack and Jill, played by Peter Sendelbach and Pam Murphy: two adults who meet at a party for the first time. Or is it the first time? Some of the twists and turns of the dialogue suggest otherwise, and the "Loudspeaker Voice," played by Veilleux, offers a hilarious rendering into standard English of the characters' fumbling attempts both to express and obscure their true thoughts. Veilleux's directing creates the proper mix of order and chaos for the strong collaboration of the two Actors.
The next one-act, "Mere Mortals," is one of the gems of the night, a soaring flight of dialogue between three construction workers who are taking their lunch break on a girder 50 stories in the air. After the usual chatter about sandwiches and bowling, a strange note is sounded when Charlie, played by Duncan Will, gives a fanciful explanation for the supposed derivation of "lawn" from the word "long." Then Charlie proceeds to identify himself as "the Lindbergh baby. I am the rightful son if Charles Lindbergh," and the others, not to be outdone, go on to claim their true identities as other famous personages. (In a sense, this scene is a direct descendant of the "Duke of Dauphin" section of "Huckleberry Finn," when on eof the tramps identifies himself as "the rightful Duke of Bridgewater" and the other replies, "Your eyes is lookin' at this very moment on the pore disappeared Dauphin, Looy the Seventeenth, son of Looy the Sixteen and Marry Antonette"). Bill Mogensen as Joe and A.T. Wilce as Frank join Will in creating a memorable moment of surreal blue-collar life. Director Jack Bulger brings out the wry wierdness of the play.
"The Blizzard" offers surreal notes of a different sort, introducing danger and meance to the stage. Scott Corry, as Neil, and Casey Boukus, as Jenny, are a comfortable couple awaiting the arrival of Neil's brother and sister-in-law to their secluded country cottage, while a blizzard rages outside. But instead of the relatives, two strangers appear at the door and insist on being let in: Salim, played by Veilleux, and Natasha, played by Lindsey Ireland. In eerie ways, their words and actions start to echo Neil's and Jenny's previously voiced secret fears and obsessions. Veilleux brings a strong sense of threat and Ireland a quiet creepiness to their roles. Susan Lucier's expert direction is clear in the tense exchanges, as Corry and Boukus register a powerful succession of escalating emotions: confusion, fear and panic.
"Time Flies" is the wackiest piece of comedy in the collection, yet also the most touching. It reveals Ives' matchless ability to take a ludicrous conceit and transform it into a theatrical event of transcendent humor and heartache. Two mayflies, played with contagious enthusiasm by Eve Messing and Adam Noonan, are out on a date. In the course of their evening together, the tragic shortness of their lifespan slowly dawns upon them, partly because they happen to watch at TV documentary about them, narrated by David Attenborough. Bulger, who gives voice to Attenborough, directs the play with a light touch that allows the actors to express the full range of their exuberant embrace of winged life. The costumes, designed by Austin Woodward, are particularly effective in this skit.
Identity - who we choose to be, how we choose to view ourselves and others - is a consistent theme of these plays, and "Degas C'est Moi" is the purest exploration of this theme. A man named Ed, played by Corry, wakes up on morning and announces, "A stroke of genius. I decide to be Degas for a day. "Why Degas?" says a pesky little voice at the back of my head. Well why not Degas?" As he undertakes his new role, the world repeatedly breaks in on his new identity: his wife Doris (played by Ireland), a driver, a dry cleaner, a homeless person, a donut worker. As he did last fall in "A Christmas Story," Corry shows a special knack for delivering the wistful narration. Lucier directed the piece.
"Sure Thing" is a non-stop feat of breathless comic timing, featuring Wilce as Bill and Ireland as Betty. Two strangers meet in a cafe, and each time their conversation comes to an impasse, a bell immediately rings, and the conversation immediately retraces and reroutes. Ives showcases his linguistic virtuosity in this piece, and under Veilleux's direction, the two actors pull off an impressive piece of collaboration. As in "English Made Simple," the truths of relationships slowly emerge from the brilliant cascade of language.
The evening ends with "Enigma Variations," which takes the theme of identity and doubles it. Bebe 1 (played on opening night by Murphy) and her double Bebe 2 (Boukus) - know collectively as Mrs. Doppelgangler - try to explore her/their identity crisis with Dr. William W. Williams, Bill 1 (Sendelbach) and Bill 2 (Mogensen). After a series of madcap double entendres and some sublimely silly dances, a nurse (or perhaps a male gym teacher in a dress) named Fifi (Will) arrives on the scene. Cynthis Csabay directs the play with an unerring sense of inflection and comic timing.
The sound and lighting design, so important to this production, is by Eoghan Hartley. Technical Direction is by Peter Waldron. Justin Cerne is the artistic director of TWN, and John Shea is the artistic director emeritus.
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket's "Mere Mortals," Bennett Hall, 62 Centre St. 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 8. www.theatreworkshop.com