Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Minnesota Fringe Festival - Review - Brittle Things - Great Script, Weird Scene Shifts

Tweet Review - Brittle Things - go for smart, funny script; winning actors; ignore puzzling unnecessary scene/costume changes - 4 stars

There are all sorts of noble reasons to go see Brittle Things.  But the main reason to see Brittle Things is simple and completely selfish - it's a damn good play.

"You said coming out was the new black."

Ronnie (Amelia Mohn) is a former child TV star who was just starting to get herself more adult roles when her agent (also her sister) Helen (Lana Rosario) had a "great idea" that backfired.  Helen advised Ronnie to come out in the press, after which the big studio backing her blockbuster movie fired her.  A lesbian actress in a big ticket Hollywood romance was considered to awkward to handle.

"I spent four years playing an orphan pyromaniac raised by nuns.  I get it."

Her acting career derailed, Ronnie retreats into her apartment.  But when Ronnie reads a new book, "The Summer of Brittle Things," she regains a little of her old spark.  She wants to meet the author, and perhaps talk about a movie deal. 

"There's this guy everyone thinks is a child molester but really he's just misunderstood."

Since the author Jamie Terry speaks to Ronnie's personal experience so directly, Ronnie assumes Jamie is a woman.  Helen calls Jamie and discovers "she" is actually a man (David Durkee).  Not wanting to disappoint her sister again, Helen gets another "great idea."

"You're an alcoholic data entry clerk who can't get cast in community theater."

Helen hires another of her out of work actress clients, Alison (Danielle Krivinchuk) to pretend to be the author Jamie Terry just for one meeting.  But Ronnie and Allison/Jamie hit it off so well, that Allison decides to use her new identity to romance Ronnie properly, over Helen's strenuous objections.

"If you had any success at all as an actor this wouldn't work."

Naturally, this whole thing is doomed to come off the rails at some point, but it doesn't do so in all the ways you think it will.  Brittle Things has more than a few surprises in store before it's done, all of them quite fun.

"Cheese danish - International Pastry Code for Sapphic Tendencies."

The noble reasons to see Brittle Things?  Well, we don't see enough good new plays, for starters.  We don't see enough plays by local female playwrights like Eli Effinger-Weintraub.  We don't see enough lesbian romantic comedies.  We don't see enough plays with multiple good roles for women.  We don't see enough plays directed by women, here it's Crystal G. Schneider.  But this isn't just theater that's good for you.  It's just theater that's good.

"By the third draft I realized the bitch had to die."

Brittle Things isn't without its head scratching elements though.  The cast keeps things moving along within the scenes at a nice steady clip.  But inexplicably, the shifts between scenes take what seems like an eternity sometimes.  I say inexplicably because there doesn't appear to be any reason for the multiple scene shifts currently orchestrated by the production. 

"Just me dropping by with no ulterior motives."

Yes, the script has a multitude of scenes in a variety of locales but here's the thing - the main locale of Ronnie's apartment is played in one corner of the stage at Theatre In The Round Players.  The other three quadrants of the space are left in a void.  They are each used for other locations in the play.  But since the lighting can (and does) focus us down on particular areas and directs our attention, why didn't they just load up set in all four corners and play them each in turn? 

"The beast with four boobs."

Instead, they stop the action dead for a blackout, load the setting into its assigned corner, and then allow the scene to continue.  This happens between almost every single scene, and there are a lot of scenes.  That's a lot of scenes, that's a lot of darkness, that's a lot of lost momentum for the play.  Exacerbating this is the fact that the chosen sound cue for these repeated blackouts is a ticking clock.  It's not entirely clear while there's always a ticking clock, and unfortunately it reminds us of the time we're being required to wait in the dark for no good reason. 

"The park.  It's so open and full of squirrels.  That one's looking at me!"

It's live theater.  You have our suspension of disbelief at your disposal.  We can pretend we don't see the other parts of the set until something actually happens there. 

"A heart shaped cookie.  How forthright."

In addition to unnecessary set shifting, there were also nearly as many unnecessary costume changes.  Again, it's live theater.  We'll play along and not point out that the actor is wearing the same clothes through the entire story.  The costumes, lovely as they are, don't add anything significant to the narrative.  And they, like the set, are slowing down the action and taking us out of the flow of the story.  That's the opposite of their purpose.  Puzzling choices that sabotage the good performances being put on by all concerned.

"I've been pretty impressed with your ability to stay in character."

Despite the ungainly production values of this version of Brittle Things, the script and the cast more than reward you for your patience.

4 Stars, Highly Recommended

Next performance, tonight, Wednesday 8/7 at 7pm
For more information, visit their Fringe show page

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