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Farming Beauty

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Kevin Renshaw

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 4940

SHOWING : August 05, 2016 - August 13, 2016

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

CenterStage North is proud to present a world premiere by one of our own CSN members, Kevin Renshaw. Art is influential; one painting can change lives and the actions inspired by art can have lasting repercussions. This is the story of Mona, a Pennsylvania farm girl turned installation artist, curator and grandmother. Relive Mona’s fateful New York city night with her boyfriend Benji in 1963 at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Reflect again with Mona, her grandson Raymond, and his fiancée Becca in the year 2000 at Mona’s studio near Allentown, PA. "Farming Beauty" explores art, truth, beauty, blessings, and curses.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Julie Taliaferro
Mona (2000) Lisa Clark
Mona (1963) Lauren Coleman
Raymond Angel Escobedo
Becca Jessie Hughes
Benny Spy Jerry Jobe
Benji R. Clay Johnson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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War Haul
by playgoer
Saturday, August 6, 2016
3.0
Kevin Renshaw’s "Farming Beauty" is a fairly ponderous drama being given a handsome production at Center Stage North. The set, designed by John Parker, uses artwork strung on wires to delineate the back walls of the 1963 artist’s kitchen stage right and of the 2000 renovated farmhouse stage left. The platforms on which the action take place mirror one another, with a nice angled feel to them. Between and above them is a small platform housing the easel of the 1963 artist’s studio. Lighting, also by Mr. Parker, deftly illuminates the scenes occurring in each location, along with a modern-day scene occurring downstage of the platforms (to accommodate a wheelchair) and opening/closing sequences in which the actors appear spotlighted in stationary locations (although when one character moves at the end, no illumination follows her). With Erica Overhulser Gehring’s costumes added to the mix, this is a good-looking production.

Original music has been scored by Chip Salerno, and Brenda Orchard’s sound design starts the show with a montage of news clip headline sound bites moving forward from 1963 to 2000. The sound bites help to establish the time periods of the show (1963 and 2000). Mr. Salerno’s music doesn’t seem tailored to the script, though, so we have it playing at a low volume under a number of scenes. It distracts more than it enhances.

The timeline of the story didn’t ring quite true to me. Mona is said to have been Miss Harvest Festival in 1959, with what I believe was a reference in the script to it being her senior year in high school. It’s also established that she was in New York City from the ages of 17 to 19, corresponding to years 1961 to 1963 and presumably to her first two years in college. No mention is made of her graduating early from high school or being a particularly young winner of the Miss Harvest Festival pageant, so I remained confused about this point throughout the evening.

Director Julie Taliaferro has coaxed fine performances out of her cast. Emotions and interactions work, and will probably jell even more as the run of the show progresses. Lauren Coleman particularly impresses as the young Mona, suppressing her natural comedic skills to give a nicely rounded and grounded performance.

I have some reservations about the play itself, though. I found the dialogue too often to be stilted and not naturalistic, as if the words had been carefully composed beforehand rather than being spoken as natural thoughts. Some of that has been disguised by the actor’s delivery, with a slightly mocking tone to indicate that the speaker realizes he/she is being a bit ponderous. Even so, there’s too much of it.

Two plots are running in the two time periods: Mona is carrying on an affair with her art professor in 1963, and they have jointly created a painting that is a hit at Andy Warhol’s Factory; in 2000, Mona is attempting to facilitate the success of her grandson and his fiancée as they start professional art-related careers. The grandson’s story isn’t particularly interesting, and the resolution of the two storylines requires our "heroine" to behave in as unsavory manner in 2000 as her two-timing professor boyfriend did in 1963. There’s a lot of drama in the 1963 section, but more is needed in the story of grandson Raymond and his intended, Becca. The overall effect is that the show is moving slowly.

Another shortcoming is the artwork that Mona and her professor have created (although we only see Mona working on it). The painting is plainly visible to audience left for most of the show (and to audience right for a substantial subset of time), and it really isn’t very good. A simple, almost anime girls’ face sits in the middle of the canvas, a stylized city skyline behind her. It seems thoroughly amateurish, hardly likely to cause a stir in Andy Warhol’s circle and propel a career to art stardom. Mr. Renshaw has created a script requiring a prop that needs to be either splendid or not seen at all. The middle ground, as seen at Center Stage North, strikes a false note.

There’s the basis for a compelling piece of theatre in "Farming Beauty." There’s a thorough grounding in art movements and interesting discussions of and parallels between water spirits Ondine (European) and Net (Egyptian). If the dialogue can be streamlined and the 2000 storyline amped up a bit, "Farming Beauty" has real possibilities to become a spellbinding drama. As it stands, Julie Taliaferro and her cast have done justice and more to the script they were presented with. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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