Monday, June 20, 2016

Review - Le Switch - Jungle Theater - All The Reasons You Should See This Play Even Though It Drives Me Crazy - 5 stars

As intermission drew to a close for Philip Dawkins’ play Le Switch at the Jungle Theater, a friend told me, “You’re not allowed to write anything bad about this play.”  I jokingly responded that I saw no reason to, everything was going great so far, “But they’ve still got the second act to screw it up.”  Why do I say things like that out loud?  They never end well.  Still, it’s often the sign of a good play if I find myself ranting about it for an hour and a half afterward, dissecting it all with another friend, trying to figure out why I suddenly turned against it when I started out liking it so much.

“I say this from the very heart of my bottom.”

Le Switch begins after New York state passed marriage equality into law, but before 2015 when the Supreme Court made it a nationwide reality.  David (Kasey Mahaffey) is drafted into his best friend Zachary (Michael Wieser)’s wedding party.  When they head up to Canada for a double bachelor party blowout, David gets lost in transit and finds himself stopping at a flower stand looking for a gift before he links up again with the grooms.  There he meets and is immediately smitten with the florist Benoit (Michael Hanna), and they end up wandering the streets, talking and getting to know one another, until the sun comes up the next morning.  Benoit needs to keep going back and forth from his native French to the English he uses for the tourists (the literal “le switch” of the title) in order to keep their communication flowing.

“Why pick a side when you can straddle?”

Before Benoit appears in David’s life, the play goes about establishing David’s difficulty with relationships.  David and his twin sister Sarah (Emily Gunyou Halaas) have a rather jaundiced view of marriage because of the less than perfect example set by their now-divorced parents.  David and Sarah’s pact never to marry is showing some cracks, however, because Sarah’s green card marriage of convenience to a soccer player from Africa is developing some genuine feeling between the two.  On the flipside of things, David has a positive example of a loving relationship that seems nearly impossible to match - his friend and current roommate Frank (Patrick Bailey).  Frank and his late partner Danny were surrogate parents to David and were together for many years until Danny died of cancer.  They weren’t married, it was never an option.  But their devotion to one another was just as genuine as if they’d had a license and a ceremony.  Frank is hobbled by grief, still, which is why David took him in, but most days, most of the time, Frank can put on a brave, and comic, face.

“The Associated Press is no longer condemning the use of the word ‘hopefully’.”

Philip Dawkins’ script is smart and hilarious.  The cast is fantastic, each and every one, under Jeremy B. Cohen’s direction.  Kate Sutton-Johnson’s scenic design of many moving parts practically dances - and it has to, in order to deal with the multiple locations (and countries) this story bounds around between.  John Novak’s properties make all the locations seem real and lived in without weighing the whole thing down with any unnecessary clutter.  Novak is also the stage manager who, along with his run crew, has to keep the many different plates spinning - dizzying set changes; dazzling light, sound and projection cues.  Sean Healey (sound), Barry Browning (lights) and Daniel Benoit (projections) all use their design to flesh out the world around the handful of characters in the play so it all feels plugged into our larger reality, rather than people isolated in a little box telling one another stories.  Moria Sine Clinton’s costumes do that weird intangible thing that all the best costume designs do - the clothes seem like clothes the people on stage would wear, rather than costumes they put on.  The costumes blend with and support the performances.  It’s a strange thing I only notice after the fact “Hey, those clothes were really perfect, because they didn’t draw attention to themselves as something outside the story.”

“Staying married is a lot harder than getting married.”

The sequence where David and Benoit meet and then go wandering together is a pitch perfect evocation of that kind of dreamy, otherworldly, non-reality people can find themselves in, if they’re lucky - when they meet someone that rearranges the chemicals in their brain and that person goes straight to their heart.  And the opening of the second act jumps forward in time two years in a way that is so simple and elegant, I nearly cried. Just lovely.  And then the rest of the second act happened.

“He loved ‘Romeo and Juliet’ - everyone loses.”

See, if you’re looking for an audience for a romantic comedy, I’m your man.  And a gay romantic comedy, sign me up, absolutely.  Le Switch also has a great cross section of different types and generations of gay men that I really admire - with Frank representing the post-Stonewall generation, Zachary doing the fabulous lumbersexual thirtysomething thing, David taking on the mantle of the intellectual in his 30s, and Benoit being the more laid back 20ish generation that doesn’t fret so much about labels.  Is poor Sarah the lone island of estrogen in this tale?  Yeah, but that’s the risk you run focusing a story on gay men (just like men would be in short supply if Le Switch were about lesbians instead).  Is the cast a little blindingly white?  Sure, but I’m not gonna ding the Jungle for that one.  I seem to recall early press information included an actor of color but he’s in demand right now so he probably just got a better deal they needed to release him to pursue.  Plus, they started the season with an all-female multiracial Two Gentlemen of Verona, and the final two plays of the season prominently feature characters of color, so the Jungle’s doing well on the diversity front.  That’s not my problem.

“Sh*t.  *I’m* the lonely businesswoman.”

The problem is that the great obstacle to David and Benoit’s potential relationship in this story is the fact that David has his head lodged so far up his own ass, and so firmly, that he is unable to allow himself or anyone else be happy.  To the point where you honestly wonder, what does Benoit see in David?  What is attracting him to this person who keeps pushing him away?  (In this way, it’s a lot like Next Fall, even though Le Switch is a much, MUCH better play than Next Fall - so, progress.)  It’s not the actors’ fault.  Mahaffey is great as David - I wouldn’t want to shake the character so hard his teeth rattled if the actor wasn’t bringing him so fully to life in all his prickly glory.  Same with Hanna as Benoit - he could be too good to be true, but except for his baffling devotion to David, the character seems fully realized and well-rounded (and let’s face it, no one in this cast of characters is hard on the eyes, from Frank to Sarah to Zachary to David to Benoit).

“People who love each other sometimes split the utility bill.”

But David doesn’t grow.  He doesn’t change.  Even though literally everyone else around him does.  He hasn’t earned a happy ending.  He doesn’t deserve one.  He’s done nothing to convince me that Benoit doesn’t deserve better.  And yet David’s supposed to be our lead character.  He’s the one we’re supposed to be rooting for.  The one exception to his generally self-absorbed demeanor is when it becomes apparent right at the top of act two that David is trying to learn some French to better communicate with Benoit.  That’s part of the reason I nearly cried.  It’s all downhill from there.

“You’re a terrible liar.  Keep going.”

There’s three delusions I wish storytellers could be broken of somehow.  The first delusion is that New York City is the center of the known universe.  I have a friend who specifically looks for new plays that are not set in New York City.  We understand, you like your city.  It takes a special kind of person to live there.  We are not all that person.  New York as a default setting for all human drama borders on lazy.  People use it as shorthand assuming we all know and we all care.

“As God as my witness, I shall never go LARPing again.”

The second delusion is that neurotic intellectuals are naturally interesting and lovable.  Again, shorthand you can just plop into a story and everyone will go along with it.  Sorry, there have to be some additional redeeming qualities involved - and I don’t just mean they have to be played by cute actors who can take off their glasses and wow, what do you know, they were hot all along under those frames.  Your neurosis doesn’t make you interesting, it makes you exhausting to be around.

“Sit down.  Let me tell you everything that’s wrong with you.”

The final delusion is that there is an unlimited number of people in your life who will find you adorable and want to have sex with and/or devote their life to you.  That is a finite resource.  (The subset of those people who will be 12 years your junior with abs you can actually see, that’s even more finite.) You can burn through dozens of them if you want to with no thought to the consequences, but eventually you are going to run out.  And you’re not going to get any warning.  There will come a day when people no longer look at you on the street.  There will come a day when people still see you as a person, but give no thought to you as a sexual being at all.  The character of David is fast approaching that boundary, but seems completely oblivious to it.  (It's ridiculous to say that, I know.  He's just in his mid-30s.  But AIDS massacred a whole generation of gay men, so we're a couple of decades behind the eight ball in learning how to get older - and deal with older people - gracefully.) Any number of people around David are aware and could clue him in (especially Frank), but it just doesn’t penetrate David's consciousness.  The levels of unacknowledged privilege and entitlement involved here are staggering.  At one point in the play, someone (I believe David) actually says aloud the words “You don’t know what you have.”  It’s not in regard to a person but it could be.  Obviously, that’s deliberate, but it’s about all the time the play spends on the idea.

I’m reminded of Rosalind’s advice to Phoebe in As You Like It:
“But, mistress, know yourself. Down on your knees
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love,
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can; you are not for all markets.”

There’s a ticking clock in this play.  There’s mortality in this play.  There are milestones of life and the passage of time in this play.  But David never seems affected by it.  He just magically comes to his senses right before the play’s about to end, Benoit makes yet another gesture in David’s direction, and with precious little in the way of explanation, David just takes it and gets his happy ending.  Do I want a gay play with an unhappy ending?  No, no I don’t.  We’ve got PLENTY of those in the canon, thank you very much.  So yes, I’m glad we got a happy ending.  I just didn’t see our lead character work for it, so I have to wonder whether it’s going to stick.

“Do you want me to be happy, or do you want me to be married?”

All that said, so much of the script and all of Jungle Theater’s production of Le Switch is so good, you have to see it.  It’s funny, it’s moving, it’s dazzling, it’s sweet.  It frustrates me enormously, but it’s just so great to see a new play so expertly acted and directed and designed that celebrates love between people that I’m still giving the damn thing five stars.  Le Switch is a rare thing, and it deserves to be embraced for all the many things it gets right.  Forgive me for letting it set my expectations so high that I want just a little more.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(photo by Dan Norman, courtesy of Jungle Theater - the fantastic ensemble cast of Le Switch - l to r: Frank Bailey, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Kasey Mahaffey, Michael Hanna, Michael Wieser)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review - EX (remade) - Skewed Visions - Revisiting the Missing Pieces - 5 stars

Sometimes in theater you get second chances.  Sometimes an artist will remount a production that, the overabundance of theater in this town being what it is, you miss the first time around.  Such a second chance is Skewed Visions’ Charles Campbell presenting EX(remade). It’s not a literal point by point remounting of the original EX from back in 2014, more a revisiting with the same collaborators, expanding on the themes and work that went before.  It will be familiar, but not a complete repetition for those who saw it before (it’s about a half hour longer - 90 minutes this time, for starters).  It will also not be completely bewildering to anyone, like myself, who had the misfortune to miss the first one.

“When you finally have time to clean out your basement, that’s when you know it’s all over.”

Campbell drew inspiration from the year he lost both his mother (to Alzheimer’s) and his sister (to cancer). Helping family members on the last leg of their journey through life, and then cleaning out the belongings that remain, and the memories that cling to them, ready to be dusted off.  EX(remade), of course, is never that literal.  This is Skewed Visions.  There is movement, there is sound, there are stage pictures that get repeated through multiple variations, there is music, there are words.  But often those words are beside the point.  They are not the focus much of the time.  Skewed Visions asks you to process live visual images as if they were a kind of poetry, the meaning exploding out of the juxtaposition of things that would mean less all on their own.

“My great aunt painted these ceramic shoes. All of them have a mistake on them.”

Campbell gives us the basic context as he hands off the various costume pieces to his fellow performers. EX(remade) is a performance that isn’t shy about acknowledging itself as a performance. So the costumes, laundered and hung up collectively on a hanger under a plastic sheet from the dry cleaners after the last performance of EX, now get released for opening night of the new outing - another level of memory to be excavated.  Campbell gives Annie Enneking his mother’s old green dress - something from her youth he never saw her wear, but something that was packed carefully away among her belongings, waiting to be found after she died.  Campbell gives Billy Mullaney a large white T-shirt worn by his sister in her final days battling cancer.  Campbell gives Megan Mayer a jacket and tie he once used, while outfitting himself in a black fleece.

“Do you remember how we first met?”

Mayer clutches a metal lockbox.  Mullaney picks up a table and holds it over his head.  Campbell holds a wooden chair.  Enneking clings to an empty picture frame.  Leaning against the brick wall is a wooden door with peeling white paint.  These are their icons.  These are the physical items they bond with and return to throughout the performance.  They take on different configurations and meanings.  Other family tokens are taken out of their hiding places, their history recounted, and votive candles lit and placed in the nooks and crannies where they used to hide.  Sound effects that sometimes seem like a storm and sometimes seem like a fire, blend with the noises of real life that sneak in over the transom through open windows.  Birds, and children, and passing traffic.

“That is my sister’s scarf.  Leopard print, of course.”

Rituals of movement are repeated, and as people are lost, we see the next go-round and notice the empty space.  Families gather for portrait poses in picture frames that get progressively smaller.  But when there’s no one around to jockey against for position anymore, you miss them.  An image that I didn’t realize until afterward was an homage to Edward Hopper’s painting "Nighthawks," also kept recurring.  In one sequence, Charles Campbell “introduces the band” talking about his collaborators each in turn, enumerating their talents, and explaining why he brought them into the project as they go about their business.  In another, they each take a turn in the hot seat, even Jeffrey Wells on the sound board, and Charles asks them to do random things or speak to a random subject of his choosing.

“This is very old.  Take care of it.”

EX(remade) is both intensely personal, and universally recognizable.  Taking someone’s hand, carrying someone across the room, engaging in a battle of wills to get them to take their medicine.  Trying to divine an object’s meaning, when the person who gave it meaning is no longer around.  It has a healthy sense of humor (or is it whimsy?), a clinical eye and an open heart.  It’s not overly sentimental, but neither is it cold and detached.  EX(remade) tries both to acknowledge and make sense of the passage of time, while also grappling with loss as something neither good nor bad, just constant.

“I’ve come to hate my body and all that it requires in this world.”

There’s a doozy of a final image that I won’t spoil, but it involves clothing made out of paper (constructed by Alison Heimstead).  Honestly, I could go on talking about EX(remade) or you could just go and see it - and you should, of course.  After all, how many second chances do you get in theater?  Performances at the Fresh Oysters Performance Research space - 512 East 24th Street, Mpls 55404 (same block as Open Eye Figure Theater).  Seating is limited. 3 more performances, next weekend Thursday through Saturday 8pm, June 23, 24, and 25.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(photo courtesy Skewed Visions - l to r: Charles Campbell (background), Megan Mayer (foreground), Billy Mullaney, and Annie Enneking)

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Review - Final Frontier: Heroes and Villains - Set B - Gadfly Theatre - Unintentional Messages? - 3.5 stars

I’ve struggled with how to write about Set B of Gadfly Theatre’s Heroes and Villains edition of their annual geek festival of short plays because on some really basic fundamental level, I don’t get either of the plays that are included.  I want to, I tried to, but I failed.

“When I woke up with blood-soaked hands, I had a smile on my face.”

Normally, I would be inclined to blame the artists somehow, rather than myself as an audience member, but I’ve been running into a lot of theater lately, most of it written by and/or directed by women, that just baffles me.  So I’m starting to wonder if I, as a man, am just not its intended audience, and thus should let both the artists and myself off the hook on this one.

“There’s only so far anger can take you.”

The thing is, I don’t want to let anyone off the hook, least of all myself.  I consider myself a feminist, for any number of reasons - I was raised by and am still fortunate to be surrounded by strong, smart, powerful women; and I’m godfather to a seven year old girl who I want the world to treat well and respect, because she’s brilliant and the world is a better place for having her in it.

“All I know is I wanted to look up and see her beside me.”

So when I see pieces of theater such as the two plays in Set B - Katy Koop’s The Amazing Cunt and Lil’ Bitch Take Minneapolis, directed by Megan Lembke; and Nicole Jost’s Slut directed by Shalee Mae Coleman - I want to find a way to engage them on the level which they mean to meet me as an audience member.  But they both seem determined to confound me in this attempt.

“Please let me play with them first.”

The Amazing Cunt (Sarah Maxwell) and Lil’ Bitch (Alyssa Perau), both survivors of sexual violence, have taken it upon themselves to execute a little vigilante justice on those who would prey upon others.  These others - as well as the reporters and police who dig into their stories - are all portrayed by Justin Betancourt and Cayla Marie Wolpers.  You find yourself wanting to root for the vigilantes and against their victims, but Koop’s play allows no such easy answers - and that’s a good thing.  The play, in fact, opens up a whole host of thorny questions, and then leaves them open and unresolved for the audience to contemplate.  I don’t think a satisfying ending is possible or even desirable for a play like this, so the writer wisely doesn’t even try.

“They don’t think we’re good people.”

Everyone involved here throws themselves unreservedly into their roles, which is commendable.  There’s only two things that trouble me - one of which is under the production’s control and the other of which is not.  Hard as it may be to watch, I think The Amazing Cunt and Lil’ Bitch Take Minneapolis is crying out to be a longer play, in order to adequately explore all the complex issues it’s grappling with.  In the context of this festival, more time just isn’t possible, so they can’t be faulted for the whole affair feeling abbreviated and unfinished.

“It’s like they weren’t even people anymore.”

The thing the production did have control over was some artistic appropriation that was problematic on two levels.  Lil’ Bitch is outfitted like and sports the same theme song (a wacked-out cover of the Banana Splits TV show theme) as the character Hit Girl from the movie Kick-Ass.  This is problematic because the appropriation is so blatant, it borders on theft.  And it’s also problematic because that character was a 12 year old child.  This play’s Lil’ Bitch is not, of course, a child.  But however adult or well intentioned, using bitch in that context bothers me.

“I want to make sense, but I can’t make sense of you.”

Slut is a play that I couldn’t spoil the plot for you if I tried.  Slut is so aggressively non-linear, you just have to go with it and stop trying to piece it together like a normal story.  As the title might clue you in, prepare for a LOT of sex, both seen and unseen, but definitely heard - and from all reports on the characters’ parts, quite satisfying and consensual.  Plenty of woman on woman, and woman on androgynous man, action to be had.  Lots of caressing and kissing.  Here again, everyone is game for what the script requires and creates the world quite vividly.

“Kindness comes easily to those that aren’t very smart.”

The Slut (Hillary Olson) invites Various Lovers (most of them played by Beckett Love) into her Bed (personified by Suzi Love).  She also has a deeply meaningful friendship with a Taxi Driver (Heather Burmeister), who probably gets the closest to who the Slut really is.  The only person without ready access to the Slut’s bed or heart is Elliot (Armando Ronconi), and this denial in the face of the Slut’s unapologetic promiscuity with others, causes Elliot for some reason to become completely unhinged.

“If you die, what a waste of regret.”

I feel strange having this particular problem with Slut but why is the guy in this play the only one who gets a name?  I guess you could argue that it makes him more ordinary while the other characters are more archetypal and thus larger than life, more important than him.  But that’s not the way my brain processes it.  It seems emblematic of the privilege his character seems to feel is his right and due.  So I may have just answered my own question, and maybe still need more time to process and appreciate the ways the text is screwing with labels and language.  Maybe, like Amazing Cunt and Lil’ Bitch, this script is forcibly reappropriating and unashamedly embracing labels like Slut.

“Rule #7: You must forget one thing about her.”

But honestly, how many times do we have to watch the same character get shot?  And the out of left field transformation/resurrection that consumes the play’s final moments, while it strangely feels earned, still leaves me with the troubling message of:  It’s OK.  This senseless violence is part of some greater good. (When the everyday violence this mimics is definitely not a path to a greater good.)  Also, even the man is allowed here to become a transcendent figure - even though he’s done everything that’s the opposite of earning it.

“That’s the part you don’t get to see.”

Maybe, again like The Amazing Cunt and Lil’ Bitch Take Minneapolis, Slut is trying to provoke discomfort and eschew easy answers.  My main worry is that misogyny here is so richly and chillingly portrayed, and then it feels like it wins and is rewarded.  I wouldn’t have any of these problems, of course, if the performers weren’t so good at what they’re doing.  So kudos for making me squirm.

“I can’t find my body.”

Disturbing and elusive as both these plays were, I have to err on the side of praising rather than dismissing them.  Give ‘em a look and see what you think.  Brace yourself for some non-family-friendly material and you should be fine.

3.5 Stars - Highly Recommended

(Photo: the artistic team behind Slut, courtesy of Gadfly Theatre Productions)

(You’ve got two more chances to catch Set B on Friday, June 10th 7:30pm and Sunday, June 12th 3pm, also don't miss Set A's last performance on Saturday, 6/11 at 7:30pm at the Phoenix Theater)

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Review - Final Frontier: Heroes and Villains - Set A - Gadfly Theatre - 2 Outa 3 Ain't Bad - 4.5 stars

Set A of the 2016 edition of Gadfly Theatre ProductionsFinal Frontier annual geek fest of new short plays, Heroes And Villains, has a couple of real winners, plus one intriguing idea that gets undone by weird directing choices.

“Saddle my rooster!  I go to seek my fortune!”

Eli Effinger-Weintraub’s comical feminist deconstruction of fairy tales entitled Your Princess Is In Another Lair is a perfect way to kick off the geek fest and submerge us in the world of heroes and villains.  The script is a hoot and the cast and director Denzel Belin had a ball putting the whole weird thing together. A young female Reader (Catherine Hanson) gets a book of fairy tales from an uncle who doesn’t realize she’s a little old for storytime. Looking at fairy tales with a more mature eye, the Reader is appalled and decides to rearrange the narrative into something a little less misogynist.  When she tries to put a princess in the role of beleaguered hero, she learns that the princess has some gender identity issues and so prefers to be called The Unfortunate Prince (Mary Kathryn).  Their nemesis is The Hedgehog (Michael Hentges) - long story - and between the three of them, they manage to get a father, a king (both Paris Kelvakis), a witch and a queen (both Megan Guidry) into and out of a lot of trouble along the way.  The Unfortunate Prince needs a love interest, so the Reader quickly gets dragged into the thick of the story herself.

“You’re a woman in a fairy tale and you’re not a queen or anybody’s mom.  There aren’t a lot of options left.”

There’s a ton of humorous knowing asides and meta-dialogue that takes patriarchal hetero-normative fairy tale stories to task for being such lousy formative source material for girls in general, and queers in particular.  “Your Princess Is In Another Lair” is just a heck of a lot of fun.  Effinger-Weintraub’s got a point to make, but the premise is so goofy, and the whole cast is so enthusiastically in on the joke, that you never feel like you’re being preached to.  But it’s also smart comedy, so you don’t need to feel silly for enjoying yourself.

“A guy in tights and a cape could say things to another guy that he couldn’t say if they were dressed in street clothes.”

Also funny, but with a whole lot of heart is Kathleen Warnock’s Further Adventures Of… a bittersweet story of a young woman, Maggie Day (Emily Rose Duea), her awakening both as a writer and a lesbian, and the history of the closeted Hollywood actors (Phillip Matthews, James Satter) who helped get her there.  As a little girl, Maggie was transfixed by afternoon reruns of an old fantasy adventure serial called Atlantis 1,000,000 B.C., whose central pairing was a young prince and the soldier who guarded him and kept him safe.  The homoerotic subtext in the writing, and the real life chemistry between the two actors launched Maggie on her own bouts of storytelling to fill in the blanks.  As an adult, Maggie’s writing career leads her to research the people behind the TV show, and what became of them.  Warnock’s script is a marvel of economy, taking us back and forth in time, and from fantasy to reality.  (Honestly, it’s so good, and right up my alley, I wish I’d written it, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay any play.) 

“I lost him somewhere along the way.  I regret that more than you can know.”

The whole story is lovingly rendered by director Meggie Grievell and her cast.  Duea is a perfect narrator and audience surrogate.  Matthews and Satter really get put through their paces - playing the soldier and the prince, respectively, as well as the two actors who portrayed them.  They also play Maggie and her childhood friend playing their own version of the Atlantis characters, and the two women later in life at a high school reunion.  They play Hollywood producers, assistants, and elderly TV writers as well.  There’s not much in the way of costume changes (there isn’t time), so the production relies largely on the power of the actors to create new characters and flip back and forth between them in the blink of an eye.  Matthews is a gregarious emotional presence on stage who chafes at limits, while Satter is more reserved, playing the role on screen and in life of a guy who knows the limitations of his talent and is happy just to get the character parts. I have to resist the urge to spoil the whole damn plot for you because it’s such a beautiful heartbreaking story of another time, in another Hollywood that I want to live it again by retelling it, but you should really see it for yourself, because it’s lovely.

“I just wanted to say thank you.  Some of us still remember.”

The one headscratcher in the trio of scripts for Set A is Michael Merriam’s At The Edge of Flight.  And it’s not the weak link because of the script.  Merriam’s play is actually a fun idea, and when the production isn’t fighting it that fun breaks through.  Fallen superhero Melissa Ballister (Valerie Borey) has suffered some kind of “super”-stroke and been knocked out of the sky.  Her healing process at government run rehab facility is hampered by officious Nurse Montgomery (Jody Bee), but helped by good-hearted nurses John (Ian Donahue) and Cindy (Anna Lakin).  Cindy and Melissa’s connection evolves into something more romantic (and, of course, incredibly unprofessional), which gives Melissa the inspiration she needs to push back against her institutionalization.

“Your kind needs to be controlled.”

Sounds like another winner, right?  For reasons that escape me, director Cassandra Snow has decided to set the thing at an absolutely glacial pace, with all the energy of a funeral dirge.  The whole play plods grudgingly from scene to scene in a way that forbids it from attaining any momentum.  Melissa the superhero had a stroke but what’s everyone else’s excuse?  Donahue as Nurse John at least can’t help himself - he’s just a sunny, perky presence on stage.  But he just serves as a starker contrast to the joylessness of a lot of the other scenes.  The rest of the cast isn’t bad.  You get the distinct feeling that they’re just doing as they're told.  Pick up the pace a little and I’m sure they and the story as a whole would be just as fun as that one nurse.  I realize rehab isn’t a lark, nursing homes are often depressing, and some nurses are just burnt out.  But the extra unnecessary layer of grim here often makes you forget that it’s a superhero story at all.  It’s possible something was just off opening night and the thing’ll pick up steam.

“I got to explore my own creation myth.”

Right now Your Princess and Further Adventures are the winners here.  They are well worth the price of admission, and bookend the evening, so you start and end on very high notes indeed.  They help keep the average up to -

4.5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(You’ve got two more chances to catch Set A, Sunday 6/5 at 3pm, and Saturday, 6/11 at 7:30pm at the Phoenix Theater)

(photo courtesy of Gadfly Theatre Productions: L to R: Maggie Day (Emily Rose Duea) and the two closeted Hollywood actors who inspired her (James Satter, Phillip Matthews) in Further Adventures Of...)