A Few One-Room Plays by ReAct
An Unconventional Company Does Neil Simon and Mastrosimone
In selecting two plays to alternate nights throughout the month, ReAct's artistic director, David Hsieh, chose well and cleverly. Both are set in fifth-floor one room apartments, so logistically the stage is rearranged easily between shows. Aesthetically, the pairing provokes contrasts as well as similarities.
For his take on Simon's 1963 classic, Hsieh has assembled a multi-ethnic cast that couldn't be more picture-perfect. Gordon Hendrickson and Kathy Hsieh star as Paul and Corrie Bratter, an attractive newly-wed couple. Their attempt to fashion a home-life after the honeymoon in an ill-fated top-floor apartment brings forth a torrent of mishap and misunderstanding. Stan Asis is wonderfully cast as their lecherous and eccentic neighbor, Victor Velasco, as is Helen Kay as Corie's prim and proper mother.
Unfortunately, the delivery was a touch off in the first act. Simon's delectable one-liners often lacked zing. Much of the play's wit is grounded in the culture of the early 60's when Princess telephones and Toni home permanents were trendy, modern items. Now, Victor's query to the jeans-clad Corie, "Are you a folk singer?" has lost its barb in the late 1990s. Simon's visual gags are still quintessential and more importantly, Hsieh and Hendrickson pick up steam as the play progresses, and carry the comedy to its light-hearted conclusion.
The delivery - and everything else, for that matter - was not the least bit off in William Mastrosimone's "The Woolgatherer," featuring T.J. Langley and Colleen Parker. Like the Simon, Mastrosimone's drama relies on the chemistry and playing between two actors to generate a mood. as Cliff and Rose, a truck driver stranded in south Philadelphia and the salesgirl he tries to bed for the night, Langley and Parker sizzled through Mastrosimone's story aout two solitary yet passionate souls.
The dictionary defines "woolgathering" as daydreaming and the play's title refers to Rose, who lives in the unpolluted world of her mind. Spinning fanciful webs of fantasies while ignoring reality has made her oddly innocent and rather strange. In contrast, Cliff is a blend of blue-collar crudeness and a fast-talking charmer. But leading a life confined in the cab of his rig, endlessly crisscrossing the country, h craves human companionship. Mismatched in personalities and outlooks, each reveals loneliness in bits and pieces to the other, trying to find common ground.
Langley unleashes Cliff's complex masculinity with verve, whether by surprising Rose with a kiss, delivering cynical wisecracks with disarming appeal, or plainly expressing sexual frustration. Parker, for her part, imparts a waif-like quality to the curious mix of naive sweetness and eerie peculiarity that is Rose. Withdrawn and out of touch, many of Cliff's quips go over her head. to his exasperation, she also rejects his advances. What exactly Rose wants eludes Cliff. "You remind me of someone I've never met!" he says.
The offbeat romance is fascinating to watch and Langley and Parker encompass all the pathos in the alienated and isolated lives of Cliff and Rose edged with realism. the climax - when the literal meaning of the title spills out - is riveting, as it should be.
"Barefoot in the Park" and "The Woolgatherer," in repertory,
The Repertory Actors Workshop
Theatre Off Jackson, 409 7th Ave S.
(proceeds benefit northwest charities)
Through Nov. 23