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Wrestling With Life: Atlanta-Born Short Plays
a Drama
by Chris Rushing, Natasha Patel, Daniel Guyton, James Beck, Dani Herd, Autoutr Du Lit

COMPANY : New Origins Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4959

SHOWING : September 15, 2016 - September 25, 2016



Atlanta-Born Short Plays. New Origins commissioned plays from six local playwrights with a unique twist—writing characters without defining their gender! In a blend of comedy, drama, fantasy, and absurdism, these characters will go through the kinds of challenges we all hope we don’t face, but they’re all too common: diseases that take parts of us away, addiction, relationships that fluctuate between love and hate, mental illness, loved ones who are obstacles to our happiness, and fated enemies.

Director Daniel Carter Brown
Director Hayley Platt
Taylor/Ruston Stephanie McFarlane
Alex/The Menace Tamil Periasamy
Brookstone/Addison Abra Thurmond
Brookstone/Addison Abra Thurmond
Brookstone/Addison Abra Thurmond
Adrian/Ever Jillian Walzer
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On and On and On
by playgoer
Sunday, September 25, 2016
I suppose that commissioning plays is a laudable effort, but when presenting an evening of commissioned plays, it would appear to be a good idea to have set a time limit for the plays and to have requested simple staging demands. In the case of "Wrestling With Life," all the plays go on too long and require very specific sets that stretch out the scene-changing time between them. These are not ten-minute plays; the entire evening of six plays lasts almost three hours.

First up is "Jon and Thom" by Chris Rushing, directed, designed, and choreographed by Hayley Platt. In it, we see a woman (Chris Kontopidis) converse with her toy stuffed cat (Luke Georgecink) and dance, with each dance segment ending with a mysterious figure in white (Allison Simmons) who touches her, symbolizing another embolism in her brain bursting and progressively paralyzing (and killing) her. It’s grim stuff, with some lofty conversations that don’t sound particularly natural. Aside from the dancing, the blocking is fairly static. A number of trees, a bench, and a bunch of props fill up the stage.

Second is Natasha Patel’s "Spin, the Drain." In this play, a man in a master’s degree program (Tamil Periasamy) and his partner (Hannah Pniewski) meet a would-be religious mystic (Stephanie McFarlane) in a laundromat (which is not convincingly portrayed in the set pieces). The man has stalled doing research on religious pilgrimages, and the mystic just happens to have a multi-denominational shrine in the laundromat’s back room that he longs to visit. Daniel Carter Brown has directed Mr. Periasamy and Ms. McFarlane to act with such broadness, volume, and intensity that it appears to be an attempt to inform the audience that this sketchy sketch is a comedy.

The third play in sequence, Daniel Guyton’s "Brittle," is the only one that sustained my interest from the beginning. In it, a museum curator (Jillian Walzer) has to contend with two possibly deranged museum denizens, one with shattered illusions (Sadye Elizabeth) and one plagued by ennui (Allison Simmons). It’s not clear at the start what the situation is, but it’s clear that the highly unusual and comical behavior we are seeing will be explained. The situation comes into focus at just about the right pace. This is the most successful of the pieces.

After intermission, we first have James Beck’s "Naked Things." Three alcoholics (Stephanie McFarlane, Luke Georgecink, and Hannah Pniewski) are attending a driving class mandated by their drunk driving convictions. The instructor (Abra L. Thurmond) has intestinal troubles, so she leaves and returns multiple times, leaving Ms. McFarlane’s character to brow-beat Ms. Pniewski’s into admitting she’s an alcoholic, while Mr. Georgecink’s character responds to each F-bomb as if it were a sexual come-on. The supposedly gender-neutral writing cheats a little with his character, with male-centric comments not really negated by a "maybe not" in the next line. The play is generally comic, but it concentrates on rather depressing behavior.

Dani Herd’s "SSH" takes place in a movie theatre, with a LOT of previews playing on the audio track while a woman (Sadye Elizabeth) watches, silently disturbed by the glow of a phone being used by another theatre patron (Tamil Perisamy). The situation turns into a movie plot cliché after she rails and rants at him. It’s got several inventive twists, but takes a long time getting to them.

"Autour Du Lit" (French for "around the bed") is the last play, and it ends the evening on a very protracted note. In it, we see two lovers (Jillian Walzer and Abra L. Thurmond) from the moment of their first orgasmic exchange of "I love you’s" through their entire decades-long relationship. Nearly all scenes start with the annoying buzz of an alarm clock that takes a while to silence. That’s bad enough, but then the dialogue stops when the bed is unmade and then re-made. When it’s not done neatly, a line in the script indicates that the bed will need to be re-made again. I had to refrain myself from shouting out "NO!" at that possibility. I suppose Laura King’s script is sweet and insightful and tender, but it’s also slow-paced, which is deadly at the tail end of an evening of bloated, only mildly interesting short plays.

Staging and direction, by Daniel Carter Brown for all but "Jon and Thom," is perfectly adequate, and sound design throughout is splendid. The actors are all very talented and give fine performances across the board. Newcomers Hannah Pniewski, Sadye Elizabeth, and Allison Simmons particularly impress in their debuts with New Origins, and the returning performers are all good, although Mr. Georgecink’s diction could be sharper.

"Wrestling With Life" is a case of the performers and the production outshining the writing. Lumping together six longish short plays that have a generally somber theme makes for a tediously long evening. Upon exiting, I saw staff yawning. I’m yawning myself as I write this. Commissioned plays are fine in theory, but they need to be programmed into entertaining evenings. The entertainment factor is low in "Wrestling With Life," with the intriguing excellence of "Brittle" and the high quality of acting not able to carry the full evening. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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