The venue is a new one for First Run: the Southampton Presbyterian Church. Technical aspects are very minimal—just chairs and a couple café tables are used against black backdrops. Costumes are in black and white, and all are attractive and suitable. Most of the thirteen actors appear in more than one of the six plays. Composers Jerry Rabushka and Adam Rosen each provide beautiful original music—eccentric and charming.
The plays in this "Spectrum" range from light to dark and from goofey sit-com to gentle fantasy to powerful realistic drama to poetic romance. Four of the six are in a very familiar contemporary comedy style. But two of the plays must be taken much more seriously; they made me very glad I spent the evening with First Run.
First the comedies:
"Monumental" by Sylvia Dadian-Smith shows us the squabbles of a newlywed couple. We see their first meeting—he as a Stag beer sort of fellow, she as his waitress. She's reluctant to marry, but he hopes to become something more important than Bran Chex in her life. On their oriental honeymoon they visit temples, walk a pitch-dark maze, have little difficulties and end sweetly together. It's all pleasant, but quite inconsequential.
"On Ice" by Carol Kline shows us a man frantically trying to withdraw his deposit from a sperm bank before his ex-wife is able to get it. She and her new lesbian partner really want a baby and the courts have awarded the ex-wife custody of the sperm. As they say, comedy ensues from this nicely wacky premise.
"Restaurant Encounter" by Jim Greer shows a lovely young woman sitting alone in a restaurant. A rather elegant man at the next table attempts to strike up a conversation. He has, he says, been waiting for her all his life—in various cities, at various hotels. The woman is a little spooked by his forwardness, but not spooked enough to resist his company and a bottle of fine wine. Then the waiter confirms that the gentleman is indeed a philanthropist angel. This must be a fantasy; but is it his or hers? I think it's hers, and I think it's quite the gentlest rape fantasy you could imagine.
"The Black Hole Boxer" by Nick Kloppenberg presents a prize fighter, his team and his bimbo girl-friend in a waiting room of an arena just before a big fight. The boxer is weirdly obsessed with a panicky fear of black holes. How can he think about fighting a mere human when there is all that immense destructive power out there? His trainer desperately tries to talk him around and make him focus on his opponent in the ring. Again a really goofy premise, but again quite funny.
And now the strongest plays in the evening:
"Olivia" by John Clark is a deadly serious exploration of a campus essay writing service suicide. A young woman student has leapt to her death from the eighth floor of her dorm. Six actors sit in a row of chairs at center stage. They portray the dead girl's room-mate, two other of her girl friends, her erratic ex-boy-friend, and an older man from the campus administration. They are being interviewed concerning her death. The focus dances around among these six. Their speech is so utterly natural, the emotions are so deeply justified and convincing, the gradual non-linear exposition is so deftly done that I was amazed to find that the playwright is only a sophomore at SLU. Such maturity, insight and skill in one so young! I expect remarkable things from John Clark in the future.
In quite a rare and different style we have David Hawley's "A second serving of salt". This is a vignette of autumnal romance written in beautiful free verse. It's far above what commonly passes as free verse nowadays—little prose essays with curious indentation. No this is true poetry in the mode of Christopher Fry. It's Irish setting lends hints of J. M. Synge or Yeats, and it is rich in alliteration, which was so characteristic of Celtic poetry. In a garden a retired Admiral pays court to the widow of a sea captain. The language is awash in sea-faring imagery and metaphor, and in the end the widow embraces her "second serving of salt". Quite lovely.
In all these pieces the acting is of a very high quality. The cast consists of Shahnaz Ahmed, Cara Barresi, Robert Beck, Steve Franklin, Jeremy Goldmeier, Don McClendon, Tom Moore, Sofia Murillo, Kelli Rao, Gwynneth Rausch, Greta Rosenstock, Phillip Kent Sansone, and Brad Slavik.
The plays are directed by Brad Slavik, Jim Meady, Shahnaz Ahmed, and John Austin (who drew impressively strong performances from his cast in "Olivia").
I congratulate Mssrs. Meady and Slavik on First Run's production of this "Spectrum" and on their continuing important service to St. Louis theatre.