Saturday, March 13, 2010

PLAY/ground at Boston Court Theatre - Day 1

This is the front of the Boston Court. Isn't it adorable?

This weekend, the Boston Court Theatre, in my beloved Pasadena is having their special annual PLAY/ground reading series. The weekend consists of four new plays that are performed as "readings," hence without any large set pieces or costumes. Ever since I happened upon the theatre randomly after getting lost trying to find my car in a pay lot last year, I have been dying for an excuse to go. Thanks to Facebook, I discovered the series was being put on this weekend and it was free, so I happily added my name to the list.

I got there in good time and parked in their awesome free parking lot, which delighted me to no end. I was expecting to park in a pay lot and walk over, but nope, they have ample free parking behind their theatre. Score! A woman sitting nearby smiled at me as I came into the lot, which gave me a good vibe about the place already. It turned out she was with the theatre, and kindly told me to head around the front to the lobby.

View from the lobby of the smaller Branson Theatre space where the plays were performed today

I parked myself in a very comfy chair inside the lobby to wait until the show began. As anyone who reads this lj on a relatively frequent basis knows, I am pretty shy when it comes to being in new situations, so although there were other people milling about, I chose to just watch and listen. I took a quick glance around and could instantly pick out some of the actors that were going to perform in the first piece. Actors, at least for me, are pretty easy to spot. Then again, I did go to an Arts highschool, so I have a bit of "Actor Radar" (Act-dar?). :P

A tall, friendly-looking man approached me, and I instantly recognized him as Michael Seel (@michaelseel), the Executive Director of BC, who tweeted me on Twitter that he was the guy I originally spoke to on the phone about coming to the shows. I was instantly impressed that he pronounced my name correctly and he was very kind and thanked me for writing about the theatre in my lj (although I just said something super dorky). I am still in shock as to who actually reads this thing, but hey out there! *waves* I told Michael I'd give him a little writeup of this weekend, because I absolutely love to share what I enjoy and believe in, and live theatre is one of my passions.

There were two plays today, and will be two more plays tomorrow all performed in the smaller Branson Theatre space, so here are my thoughts on today's fare:

The stage setup for the first play

The Nature of Mutation
by John Walch

This was a really different play about a private school in dire financial trouble that receives a grant from a private foundation. The one kicker is that the school, which primarily teaches Darwin's Theory of Evolution, must now teach the more religious idea of "Intelligent Design." Having never been to a reading previously, I was a little thrown for a loop because I was expecting more "action" to this play and the actors just stood in front of music stands and read out the lines. Personally, for me, this play seemed to be so full of action, that it was a shame I couldn't see more of it onstage. My addled brain (which had only had a bowl of cereal before leaving the house as fuel) got a little lost halfway through the first act and didn't really catch up until the very end. What I do remember is the play discussed many aspects of religion and science that cross over and sometimes meld, which really made me think (when I could)! A lot of the story was told on chalkboards and involved chalk as a substance itself, which juxtaposed nicely with the idea of technology involving "Whizznos" (essentially smartphones) and "me-mos" (not paper memos, but electronic "mee-mos," sent like emails). I absolutely loved this chalkboard idea in the play, and it would have been great to actually see the props in action.

One of the young boy leads, Liam Springthorpe, was fantastic and had that same "spark" that I saw in one of my new young favorites earlier this year. Springthorpe seemed to have so much energy, it was (again) a bit of a shame to only be able to see him stand behind a podium and deliver his lines. When he came in and sat in the audience for the second show, I got more of a taste of what he would be like onstage just by watching his natural movements being "himself," bopping along to his iPod. With his wild, Marc Bolan-esque hair and lanky features, he'd make a terrific Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, if he hasn't portrayed him already. I see good things for this kid. Another standout was David Snell as the young "uber professor," whose life revolved around his students and the campus. Chryssie Whitehead was also wonderfully natural in her acting (and I loved her haircut, too!) In this play, the actors portrayed various different roles and Whitehead did an absolutely hilarious rendition of an overbearing Asian mother who was desperate to have her daughter grow up be a good Christian girl. Overall, a very "deep" play that I would love a chance to see performed with all props and costumes, since I couldn't really get the full feel of it in the reading.

And, true to L.A. theater etiquette, even though we were warned in advance, someone's very loud and very annoying cellphone went off halfway through this play. *sighs* Someday, L.A. audiences, someday you will get a clue. *shakes head*

After a quick respite of water and a small snack, my brain was in a more stable place to enjoy the second play. And enjoy it I did!

Stage setup for the second play

by Jennifer Haley

This play was fantastic. To say I loved it is almost a bit of an understatement. A lonely, older female writer in the early stages of dementia is helped by a kindly nurse's aide, who becomes curious with her background and helps the older woman to write her memoirs before they are forgotten entirely. The play focuses on the older woman's past mixed with her present, and then delves into these wonderful little fantasy world asides that show a path through the older woman's troubled past and how she uses this world to escape when reality became too much to bear.

Writer Jennifer Haley uses this wonderful symbology throughout the play like the idea of "breadcrumbs" as a way to lead back to memories that may be otherwise forgotten and the use of sticky notes as both reminders for the older writer's dementia, but also as a way to name things and give them meaning in her world, and show the difference between her reality and her fantasy realms.

The older writer, Alida was played excellently by Mimi Cozzens, who also had this wonderful halo of snowy white hair and was wearing this gorgeous green necklace that would be almost distracting if her performance weren't so absolutely fantastic. She was able to easily switch between the older, strong-willed Alida, to flashbacks of her young self with ease, as well as mix the two in a woman who was quickly giving in to the ravages of dementia.

The young nurse's aide, Beth, who helped Alida to write down her memoirs, played by Mandy Freund was also excellent. The challenge of playing both the daughter-role of Beth and in flashbacks, Alida's mother was done with ease and she had a wonderfully natural tone.

Dana Vigran was The Reader, who essentially read out the scene changes to help the audience switch between flashbacks, the present, and Alida's fantasy life, was also very good.

Breadcrumbs was sentimental, without being sappy. It was heartbreaking, without being melodramatic. It had everything a good play should have - laughs, tears, heartache...and it made you think. There were lines in that play that I wish I could quote to you they were so beautifully written. Haley really has her finger on the human condition and what it truly means to be a woman. (Especially one who has loved, as we all have.) She also has an eloquent way with words, which makes the delivery all the sweeter. I am ever hopeful this play gets produced, because I would love to share it with my own mother. A wonderful, wonderful piece.

After almost collapsing into sobs at the end of Breadcrumbs, I took a quick breather in the bathroom, then did something I very rarely do. Even though I was feeling very shy and awkward, I forced myself to walk back into the theater and made a beeline for the writer, Jennifer Haley. I doused the tiny slip of a woman in gushy praise and probably sounded like an idiot, but it had to be done. I told her how amazing the play was and that she had such a wonderful way with words and then I actually said, "Your play really moved me"...and I meant it! I hope she didn't think it was a "line," because I never say that kind of stuff, but it just kinda came out, and it was absolutely true! She thanked me for coming and I said, "Thank you for writing such a wonderful play!" Then, with that, I tripped up the stairs and almost ran out of the theater in embarrassment. But...I was SO pleased I had said something, because I knew if I didn't, I'd regret it. Ms. Haley, I wish you all the success for the future. You have a gift for touching others with your words and I hope that Breadcrumbs is as big a success as it deserves to be.

After all that emotion and blushy-gushy embarrassing myselfness, I just wanted to flee home, but...I had another mission. Both plays were performed in the smaller, Branson Theatre space, which was so totally adorable, but I was also keen to see the main stage to scope out its setup for when I come back for Twentieth Century Way in May.

Even though it wasn't officially open today, this really nice guy with glasses who was with the theater agreed to quickly show me around the space. My friends, the moment I walked into the Main Stage space, I fell in love. god - it's all done in gorgeous, deep reds and black and it's just such a beautiful, elegant space that I cannot wait to come back and be able to sit in one of its 99 regal-looking, fire-red seats! Gah. And the stage. It's just...beautiful. I have never just instantly fallen in love with a theatre space, but today it happened. I might even see the production that's on now just to try it out before May!

They had a little reception after with some yummy-looking food, but I was feeling fat and pretty dorky after having done such fangirly gushing to Ms. Haley and to the nice dude about the Main Stage, so I left with a light heart and a happy head. There is something so rich, so real about theatre that film just doesn't capture for me, and I was reminded today why I love it so much.

I can't believe those two plays were free today. I'm going to try and find out tomorrow how I can give my (albeit small) contribution to the theatre, for what is turning out to be such a spectacular weekend. :)

And if today couldn't get any better, I found a box of chocolate in my car trunk that I had totally forgotten about! How cool is that?

Click here for Day 2

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