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Wednesday, 19 May 2010 10:52

The Sinker soars at HotCity Theatre

Written by Andrea Braun
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The Sinker soars at HotCity Theatre
Image courtesy of HotCity Theatre

Jami Brandli demonstrates courage as a playwright by using The Sinker as a title. If the play weren't any good, it would be tempting to make the second letter a "t." But that's not going to happen here. Brandli has written an absorbing piece, well acted by a cast of three and directed by Annamaria Pileggi. It is this season's fully mounted presentation chosen from among the 2009 GreenHouse Series 300-plus entries. HotCity sponsors Greenouse to solicit and develop new plays and have been rewarded with Kevin Kline nominations (and two wins) during the past five years.

The Sinker is not without flaws. For example, in the beginning, we learn that the protagonist's name is "George" (played by Rusty Gunther) and that he comes from a wealthy political family in Maine. So, that allusion is fairly obvious, until it goes in another direction, though George's rich parents are a topic of frequent conversation and some disdain from Candi (Erica Feldman). She is a creative writing student and has spent the night with George's roommate, Josh, who also happens to be Candi's teacher and considerably older than she.

When we enter the apartment as the imaginary curtain rises, we find ourselves in a messy kitchen where a party has taken place the night before. Beer and liquor bottles are strewn everywhere the whole place is a mess. The occasion for the party is the publication of Josh's first novel, American Family (another Bush nod, since Kitty Kelley's family biography is titled The Family). However, his roomie hasn't read the book and doesn't yet know that Josh has written a roman a clef about George's family. The difference between fact and fiction and the question of ownership of one's own stories are running themes.

Candi pads out in a man's shirt, a thong and a pair of bright orange socks, presumably all but the thong belonging to Josh (whom she always calls "Joshua"). It is snowing and she opens the window to see it as George enters and gets a rear view of Candi that intrigues him. He offers her something to eat, but she says she "has cigarettes for breakfast." He does intend to make coffee (even though Josh has used up his organic blend) and takes down the can from the cupboard. When he opens it, he finds a .38 revolver rather than the pedestrian coffee he expected. Paranoia ensues.

George does tell Candi some stories about his work. He's a weather reporter for a local AM radio station not as glamorous as FM, he points out. He corrects her use of the word "blizzard," insisting that what is occurring is a nor'easter, but it's probably not yet an "S.O.E" (State of Emergency) or he'd have been called into work.

Candi gets him to talk about his childhood, so George tells her seemingly small things like that he was a good swimmer. Most important, he opens up about the seminal event of his youth: the death of his brother Billy who had autism. George still seems somewhat jealous of Billy because he is possessive of Josh and believes that when the three of them were boys together, Josh preferred Billy to him. George has some painful lessons to learn on this "morning after," the most important being everyone is a user, in one way or another, except him.

Liz (Aarya Sara Locker) enters from her apartment downstairs in a shabby robe and a pair of bright orange socks. This is a clever trope to let us know both women have been intimate with Josh who, according to Candi, has gone out for lattes and will be back "soon." Liz is Josh's agent and editor and also a college friend. She isn't feeling well, pulls out the coffee, and finds the gun too. To say much more about the plot would spoil the play's strongest element: its suspense. It gets talky in places, but it does keep us enrapt for at least the final 20 minutes. I couldn't even hear anyone in the audience, breathing, coughing or making any other human noises until it was time for a hearty round of applause.

The actors fully inhabit their characters. Gunther is back where he belongs in a contemporary, colloquial piece. He does look young to have gone to college with Locker, but that's not too distracting. His George is nervous and twitchy, seemingly uncomfortable around women, and he sweeps the floor repeatedly. In fact, I found the sweeping somewhat distracting while Liz was giving a significant speech. He acts as if he might belong somewhere on the autism spectrum himself, and Candi infantilizes him by calling him "Georgie." Gunther has cornered the market on loveable schlubs at HotCity, and while this isn't the home run he got in The Dead Guy, it's a triple.

From her bio, it appears that Erica Feldman isn't an actor, but she should be. She credibly strikes the right notes of superiority and chutzpah, even when she's in a tight situation. She would be an excellent hostage negotiator, at least for a while. Locker is fine, as always. She has a particularly resonant voice which lends everything she says an air of importance. She is also a chameleon. She's done Noel Coward with aplomb, Shakespeare with ease, and now brings Liz to neurotic life with complete believability.

Pileggi's direction is precise and she seems to work well with this group of actors. Sean Savoie and Maureen Hanratty get set and light credits. Someone needs to figure out how to make the snow Candi gets in her very dark hair to melt (or have her brush it off) she's wearing fake flakes through the entire first act but overall, I like the window that opens, the tap that produces water, and the look of a real room in the Kranzberg with a tile floor and a ceiling, pieces of which metaphorically fall from time to time.

There is a certain predictability to much of The Sinker, but as it comes to an end, the predictability turns into inevitability and that, of course, can create tragedy. But there is also plenty of comedy along the way, and I believe you'll enjoy this show.

NOTE: The meters east of Grand on Olive have 90-minute limits (the show does have an intermission); west of Grand, you will pay $2.25 in quarters (change is available at the Box Office) for up to 4 hours. Your best bet is to go to www.hotcitytheatre.org and download a $5 voucher for the Scottish Rite parking lot which is just across the street from the KAC.

The Sinker is at HotCity Theatre through May 22, 2010. You may call 314-249-4060 or visit Hotcitytheatre.org. You can also get information about the GreenHouse series taking place June 25-27 at the Centene Center and help develop next year's new play.

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