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The Sunday Critic: Sarge, Enter Your Sleep, A Nudist's Wedding


Besides the opportunity to be windy and wordy, the main advantage of keeping my amateur status as a critic rather than going pro (i.e being paid) is that I am not obligated to the scene as a whole. I get to what I get to. I’ve taken a pass on many shows. Sometimes, there's a conflict, other times shows are just not ready for a review, and sometimes words just don't do justice to a work.

 

Below are brief reviews of Sarge, Enter Your Sleep, and A Nudist's Wedding:  three productions which, had I not promised coverage of this year’s Fringe Fest as comprehensive as I could manage, I’d just as soon not be writing about at all…

 

Sarge (Clifton Players, Cincinnati)

The thoughtful good intentions of Kevin Crowley’s monologue play Sarge are so heart-on-the-sleeve obvious that I want to praise it simply for the willingness to engage the immediate world. I’m an admirer of playwrights who dare address issues of the day directly. (Most retreat to the past, or to fantasyland, claiming as they wave goodbye to be relevant by way of metaphoric timelessness.) So, this meditation on the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child sex abuse scandal from the point of view of his wife, Dorothy “Sarge” Sandusky--specifically, about the power of denial to blind us to the truth--should be just my meat.

 

It isn’t. Sarge makes its point within the first ten minutes but still has 40 minutes to fill. In three scenes where one would do, the woman is portrayed in the stereotypical round – as a blinkered homebody, profoundly religious, determinedly motherly – without sarcasm but also without complexity. The only surprise in her story is her past career as a singer, but nothing is done with that except the opportunity to hear the very fine actress, Susan Emerson, assay “Tennessee Waltz” twice.

 

A Best of Fringe winner in Cincinnati, I must assume that Sarge generated real power at home, where the Sandusky scandal was more immediate and audiences could fill in responses from daily-news knowledge of it. But that power doesn’t travel: A pedophile husband and his truth-denying wife is a dynamic that doesn’t change much and has been, sadly, often told. (See every fourth episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or Criminal Minds.) Since Crowley is a considerate writer, excellent with dialogue, I’d recommend that he go against his and my preferences and spring this play from its basis in fact. Freed of its obligation to the facts of living people’s lives, Sarge could really go places.

 

Fans of highly skillful naturalistic acting may want to see Sarge for Emerson’s poignant performance alone. She is awfully good: Think Mary Pauley for a local reference point to the quality of her work.

 

Enter Your Sleep (Elm Theatre, New Orleans)

The Elm Theatre’s Enter Your Sleep (which continues at the Fortress of Lushington one more weekend after Fringe Fest is done) is perfect. In every way. It’s been years since I saw a show that I didn’t want to attempt to put into words because I feared disturbing or trivializing my memories of it. Crap! 

 

Playwright Christina Quintana’s world premiere sounded in description exactly like a cutesy chore. A dreamscape play about childhood BFFs Glory Zico (Becca Chapman) and P.K. Whylde (Matt Standley) – see? Even the characters’ names are cutesy – meeting on the nighttime astral plane to work out the long, complex history of their essential but indefinable relationship. Oh goodie! Another any-one-damn-thing-after-another-damn-thing non-story that stops…whenever the playwright runs out of ideas… rather than concludes.

 

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. The high-comedy quick-change dreamscape episodes, with Chapman and Standley each sliding into and out of dozens of personae, unfolds with a slowly revealed internal logic that turns first worrisome, ultimately devastating, as Quintana shows her cards--even while the laughs continue irresistibly. On this play’s more intimate but equally complex scale, director Joe Furnari demonstrates all of the problem-solving mastery that didn’t quite rise to the challenge of A Lie of the Mind.

 

Swamp DeVille’s elegant interlocking boxes-and-boards set is everything it needs to be at every moment.

 

Most unexpectedly: the peerless Becca Chapman is met and matched. Matt Standley here makes his debut as New Orleans’ newest, uniquest, charismaticnest leading man.

 

Even the philosophical questions – about the meanings, manifestations, and limits of friendship – are satisfied. I got to steal from one of my betters and get out of this. “If you can see Enter Your Sleep and not feel deeply moved, I never want to meet you and that is that.”

 

A Nudist’s Wedding (New Orleans)

Then there is the theatrical equivalent of the Sunday painter, of which Stephen Hunyadi’s self-production of A Nudist’s Wedding at the Fortress of Lushington is a textbook example. This is, in its way, as emblematic of a fringe festival’s first purposes as is Lofty Productions’ Cicada, and may be of interest for that reason alone. Otherwise professional (or even talented-amateur) critical appraisal of this comedy about a tradition-minded young lady who marries into a collective of marijuana-farming nudists, would be utterly beside the point. 

 

Since I was there, I will offer a few notes. Musician Michael Kunz makes a charming debut as the easy-going stoner fiancé Earth, generating most of the laughs on hand. Newcomer Maggie Blaeser demonstrates an impressively fearless commitment to the role of Iris, his shrewish betrothed. Another newcomer, Laura VanDruff, makes the most of what she has to work with as the de facto leader of the collective. Old hands Carlos Gonzalez and John Gore perform yeoman service in utilitarian roles as the priest and the father of the bride, respectively.

 

Beyond but not because of those highlights, A Nudist’s Wedding is a must-see for the family and friends of the playwright, the director (recent returnee Megan Barrios), and any of the onstage principals. 




Erin Rose
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