Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Entertainment on a Budget

By RICK RANTAMAKI http://rantamaki.blogspot.com

You know, it’s kind of weird watching a play that was written by a coworker. I mean, you’re sitting there watching it thinking, all of THIS came out of him.

I work with the guy on a daily basis and he never mentioned he was writing a play. In fact, it wasn’t until his play premiered in Texas that he told me about it. I read the script and the quality of his work was amazing. The characters, the plot, the humor, the conflicts were all carefully orchestrated into a believable story. THIS coming from a guy who works at a mechanical engineering firm. Hard to fathom, huh?

Well, it just so happens that a local community theater picked up his play and it’s currently running through the month of May. Of course, I had to see it. How would it be interpreted? How would an audience react to it? Would the casting be as I imagined? I was looking forward to it almost as much as my coworker was.

I told him I would write a review (as though I had no previous knowledge of the play) and, if he chose, he was free to post it on some local theater review sites. So I ran the following by him and he agreed to have it posted “as is”…

Entertainment on a Tight Budget

With kids and a tight budget, it’s not often the wife and I get a date night; so we cherish those rare moments. Friday night was no exception. I got us tickets to the “Theatre” (spoken with one hand held high and a rich Shakespearian accent). Granted, it wasn’t an off-Broadway production down at the Fox Theatre (so my monocle and top hat would have to wait another day). Instead, we opted for something a little more homespun…at a local playhouse… by a local playwright. The production, called “TLC”, is touted as, “A family-friendly comedy that refreshes like a pitcher of sweet ice tea.” But, little did we know, our low budget, low expectations would belie the evening’s outcome.

This was our first trip to the College Street Playhouse, which is little more than a converted turn-of-the-century church. The tight quarters and pew seating provided an almost confessional type atmosphere. The lack of a curtain left the set constantly exposed, which gave us ample opportunity to study the layout before the actors took the stage. The garish paint, the garage-sale furniture, and hodgepodge props resembled a poor, college student’s apartment – who’s deep-into an experimental phase with acid. Gotta ease up, it’s a community theater.

The play opened awkwardly with a husband and wife (John and Tyler) scene apparently meant to establish their youthful exuberance over the Tyler’s newly acquired dream job. However, the intent of the scene was a hard sell due to the obvious age difference between the actors portraying the husband and wife (it’s a stretch to consider a silver-haired husband youthful). I felt like we were witnessing some bizarre pedophile fantasy. (Why yes, little girl, I painted this studio apartment myself. Care for some candy or whiskey?) Fortunately, before I could distract myself with thoughts of “lotion in a basket”, both the plot and my impression quickly took an unexpected twist.

John has an accident while running off to the liquor store, which leaves him in a coma. As Tyler reorganizes her priorities to care for her unconscious husband (I know ladies, she’s not alone), we’re treated to a whirlwind of dysfunctional relatives attempting to make a difficult situation bearable. The inherit humor within the varied opinions and intentions of her family members fashioned a storyline far more complex and stirring than the ramshackle set implied.

With the exception of an uncomfortably creepy dream sequence between John and Tyler near the end of the show (which seemed more like a frantic high school make-out session than a tender moment shared by a husband and wife), this low-budget production was surprisingly entertaining. Sure, it’s not as refined as a Broadway production, but the supporting cast and depth of story helps “TLC” overcome the bargain venue (and score as a successful date night).

Though the playbill may dish this production as a pitcher of sweet ice tea; it’s the generous dose of Southern comfort that livens the brew.

Copywrite 2009 Rick Rantamaki

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