In simplest terms, theatre is a script come to life through the artistry of a capable cast and crew. I know I’m stating the obvious, but bear with me.
From the moment you enter the Kranzberg Arts Center, you sense quality: beautiful renovations, artistically-displayed concession, the open doors of the Craft Alliance gallery inviting theatre goers to browse the current installation (still in progress but already very interesting). Combined, they make a strong, positive first impression, one which is enhanced by HotCity’s comfortable, intimate, well-equipped, 90-seat black-box theatre.
No one is ever more than a few feet from the story, the actors and action. I like this very much. First impressions continue with the set: very clean, modern, smooth walls of warm earthy colors, an up-scale living room with hardwood floors, abstract wall hangings - a simple yet wonderfully appropriate design by James Holborow.
In fact, with only the most minor exceptions (pre-show music and sound quality), these first impressions carry throughout every aspect of the production.
The acting was convincing, strong and sustained. In such an intimate space, there is nowhere for an actor to "hide". Every nuance of movement, no matter how small, and of vocal expression is on display, up close and personal. Shanara Gabrielle as Cassie, Shaun Sheley as Kurt and Sasha Diamond as Tiffany did a superb job.
Lighting by Sean M. Savoie was simple, subtle and added to the telling of the story, most notably in a sequence of light cues signaling the passage of time from evening, to night, to post-midnight, to wee hours - or so I imagined, anyway, such was the suggestive yet suble power of his design. And the same can be said of costumes by Jane Sullivan and props by Meg Brinkley.
So, back to my opening comment. The artistry of actors, designers and technicians – under the able direction of Marty Stanberry – was clear and compelling. Kudos to all.
Now for the words, the play itself.
THE WINNERS is the premier production of this David L. Williams play which won HotCity’s 2010 Greenhouse New Play Festival. It is an interesting, well-conceived piece. A married couple win the lottery - and win big. Now, what to do with the money? And one of their first decisions is to hire an escort, a call girl, who will satisfy all of their sexual fantasies. ALL of them.
No, the play is not for everyone. Act I heavily relies on sensuality and seduction, an arranged meeting of the couple, Kurt and Cassie, in their living room, where the entire play takes place, with Tiffany the escort for the night's activities.
The seduction scenes are well done and tasteful – but not family fare and may not appeal to those uneasy over even suggestions of 3-way sexual encounters, much less the two women's prolonged kiss or Tiffany's partial undressing of Kurt. And there is some rough language throughout.
However, as stated, the scenes are tasteful and – more to the point - slowly evolve into a more sinister tale of money, power, self-esteem, guilt, and, possibly even, a type of love.
By the end of Act I, it is clear much more is going on among these three individuals and in each of their psyches than could have been foreseen. It whets one’s appetite – as good theatre does - for what may come. No one leaves at intermission.
Yet, something happens at intermission, something a bit inexplicable. The three people who stepped onto the stage at the top of Act II were not the same who stepped off at the end of Act I. In fact, they were so different in tone and temperament, in attitude and manner that I felt I was watching a second play, a sequel or revision of the first involving the same people, the same plot, but with characters of a very different mind-set. The tension, sinister motives and demeaning, debasing behaviors exhibited by all three characters were gone.
Why, how, when the rising tide of suspence and conflict was resolved is unclear. And, while there is certainly still a twist in the end, it doesn't seem to follow clearly in kind or intensity from what preceded.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don’t write this to discourage anyone from attending this smart, tightly written, sometimes comic, sometimes tense drama. It is a well-crafted piece. It is a HotCity Greenhouse winner – no small feat. And the playwright, David L. Williams, has more than enough credits to his name to attest to his own artistry and craft.
All in all, THE WINNERS makes for an interesting evening of theatre, in a fabulous space, staged by a very talented and practiced company. And it certainly leaves you talking - always one of the nicest take-aways of an evening of good threatre.