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Offoffpeachtree Theatre1
Onion Man Productions1
Average Rating Given : 4.50000
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Harvest '09: A New Crop of 10-Minute Plays, by jpbeck
The good is so good...come for the good
Friday, June 5, 2009
Atlanta has acting venues that compensate performers, designers and directors well and it's expected their work will reach a certain level. It's harder to review a variety of pieces put together into one night of production, basically because there will be good and bad and you hope for a decent night of entertainment. Thursday's opening of Harvest 09 has some incredible theater and some best left off stage. Some deserve a 5 and some much lower so I settled on a 4 to encourage audiences to see the fine work performed and endure the pieces that aren't quite as good.

The company is apparently a playwright's vehicle with actors and production value taking backseat to the words. Unfortunately, plays are to be performed and can't succeed without strong actors, direction and production values. In Atlanta, new works are often read by actors sitting in chairs or performed by wannabe actors. It's good learning ground but when you expect paying customers you need to make sure you give them top level performers and directors.

OnionMan's third or fourth production of short original plays boasts some phenomenal performers who are finally being used appropriately by this company and some performers who were obviously the only people who showed up at auditions and may never have been in a staged production since they were in school.

Kudos to writers Patrick Cuccaro, Neal Hazard, Bill Wellborn and Dave Fisher for excellent material and to Sherry Mann Stewart and Barbara Hawkins Scott for recognizing acting talent, good material and marrying the two to direct the strongest and most credible pieces of the evening.

Cuccaro's "Monologues" is by far truest to life and probably the hardest to direct and act because of that. Add to the strong writing, incorporating Langford Hughes wonderfully orchestrated "real speak" where characters talk at the same time but the focus remains firmly directed where it needs to be, and incredible performances by Lynne Jenson and Tamyan Sager-Gandert, Hawkins-Scott shows her professional direction skills by taking this piece to a high level over what it could have been. I was, for the 10 minutes the piece played, absolutely in that room with the mother and daughter during what boded to be the first baby step in a pivotal transition for both; lives that change, obviously, by tiny incremental teaspoons, rather than major steps. This piece has the potential to grow into a full length, or certainly a one-act, play--although the scenes would have to vary in intensity.

Jenson made Atlanta theater stronger for years and she was missed and forgotten during her hiatus from the stage due to battles with cancer, so it was good to find her abilities finally used as they should be in an OnionMan producton this time around. Sager-Gandert, a strong actress with great presence, works on the same plain as Jenson and their chemistry is obvious. BTW, I saw Sager-Gandert leaving afterwards; her costume and make-up were wonderful because she's really an attractive woman.

Stewart's well directed "AM Session", by Neal Hazard, suffered from poor production values but Gordon Danniel's strong performance as Wendall and Ali Amin Carter mostly take the audience attention off the unsightly construction of what surely is supposed to be a car. The piece takes on a non-corny Twilight Zone quality at the finish, one that says succinctly that things aren't always what they seem and that second chances come from the least expected quarters and Danniel's and Carter's commitment to this reality made it work well. The lighting was too dim, but looking at the "car" it's evident the lighting was probably designed hide it.

Lisa Braithwaite's "Saved in Seventeen Syllables" on the written page may not have been as strong as it was in production under Stewart's direction and with actors Joan Q Scott, Ivy C. Purdie and the always fine Gordon Danniels. It served as a fine commentary on psychology, marriage and how psychology is viewed in some sectors of our society. The actors are likable and well-cast, playing the comedy straight and therefore cracking up the crowd. There were some line issues last night, probably just opening jitters, which means the piece should get smoother and even better.

Dave Fishers' "In the Rough" wasn't realistic but served as a fun, fully-recognized and absurd whole. Despite its comedy sketch format it was solidly written, clearly indicating that these golf nuts have no need for faith except when consequences require it. Otherwise, they sally forth, playing through the round, come hell or high water. The actors were competent with Bob Smith, Allen Stone, Chris Brooks and James Conner pulling off roles well and Joe Loughlin turning in a short but surprisingly fine comedic performance.

Wellborn's "Harry's Celestial Journey" saw Loughlin again in a more restrained comedic turn. Wellborn's work provides well-drawn characters thus arming his actors with the ammunition to give solid performances. Apparently Loughlin is a much stronger comedic talent and it's hoped the folks where he works on stage regularly recognize and further develop this ability. Travis Young and Stephen Banks, as a strangely funny "angel", were likable and competent in their roles, each benefiting from Wellborn's well-drawn characters and decent direction by S.M. McElvoy. Young appears in two other pieces but this was his best performance.

Other pieces were mixed bags as far as performances and material. "Santa's Night Out" was disappointing and why it's on the agenda is something of a mystery. It seemed like a writing exercise presented by students taking their first acting classes, with the exception of Lori Cox who didn't have a major role but committed to her character and the scenario completely in a lovely comedic turn. Sheri Ingbritsen and Diane Hallen play the two major roles and as the program indicates they have past theater experience the problems with their performances must lie with the material or the direction. Hallen looked as uncomfortable in her costume as the audience felt for her and I'm told this is a distraction to actors so that may have been the reason for her performance Thursday.

"Real Space" didn't have anything to say but Mary Saville and Jason Caldwell showed glimpses of real talent and stage presence that can't be taught. It would be nice to see them in a better vehicle with direction by Hawkins Scott or Stewart. The other young actors didn't appear to lack ability but it was hard to tell from the material and the characters they played the extent of their ability or experience.

The acting wasn't bad in "Next of Kin" but the piece suffers from a lack of research into military protocol and the inconsistencies in the presentation created a vehicle that failed to showcase what might be quite good acting ability otherwise. Travis Young seemed like a fish out of water in his uniform and it's suspected the uniformed performers must have only just received costumes because they all seemed quite uncomfortable in them. Daphne Mintz is a strong writer but this piece seems like it was quickly written, may for this show because there inconsistencies in the presentation made it hard to tell if this stemmed from the writing or failure to research real and well-known military protocols.

The hospital piece, "Looking Down" was reminiscent of James Beck's piece in the January offering. It lacked identity, unable to decided what the theme should be and failed to identify a protagonist or group of protagonists. It was uncertain whether it was intended to be about relationships, technology as a form of avoiding reality or some kind of commentary on death and sibling relationships. It was hard to judge whether the problems were in the direction or the writing or both. The three actors, Travis Young, Nicole Convis and Jessica Fowler seem to have acting ability but suffered from similar problems in January where Jenson and playwright Dave Fisher performed a similar Beck piece. Jenson was the strongest performance but the piece wasn't sure whether it told Jenson's character's story or Dave Fisher's priest's story as there was no connection in the writing that told us the story was about both characters and their situations except for their presence in the same place at the same time. Again, "Looking Down" had some moments, but nothing that gave it the fullness needed for real satisfaction.

Kudos to Lionheart where the shows take place. Obviously subscribers or donations have resulted in a better staging environment and while there's still a ways to go in getting better lights and more technical ability, they're making significant strides. Good job Lionheart and artistic director Tanya Carroll. Major compliments to the stage manager, Joyce (I don't have her last name as I lacked a program) and her crew. Set changes were well done, better than those at some professional theaters in town. There were little glitches, probably, but that happens on all opening nights.

All in all, this OnionMan show contains the strongest and the weakest of those previously produced, but what's good should be enough to entice theater lovers to make sure they don't miss the good stuff. Like a good baseball game there will be times when you can zone out but don't miss the home runs--there are several.

Shirley Valentine Extended, by Willy Russell
See "Shirley Valentine" in search engine for earlier reviews
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Eat before you come to the play! The chips and eggs will make you salivate. This truly collaborative effort by cast, crew and administration will make you laugh and quite possibly cry happy tears.

The extended run is for two weekends, October 5,6,7 and October 12,13,14.

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