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March 22, 2018 Comments (0) Views: 165 *Seattle Theaterland, Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Stage

Review: So Many Writers In So Many Plays

I know the general rule of writing is: “Write What You Know!”

Which explains why there are so many books/plays/films with writers as their protagonists. 

Writer! Know thy self!

Of course the problem with that is, writer’s are (mostly) neurotic self-involved messes with questionable people skills and a tendency to be both overly introspective and moody alternating with bouts of being irritatingly self-aggrandizing and cocky. Sometimes within the same sentence.

Also: writers really have boring lives. Sitting around and whining about the horrors of writing and procrastinating for hours at a time followed by frantic sullen typing fueled by excessive amounts of coffee/whiskey consumption and punctuated by random grumblings/grousings and frequent cursing at the unfairness of life and the reliability of internet service providers.

BOOOOOORING.

Well…mostly.

Terry Edward Moore and Joshua Carter in Thalia's Umbrella's production of "The Impossibility of Now" at 12th Avenue Arts through March 31, 2018 Photo: @annabel_clark

Terry Edward Moore and Joshua Carter in Thalia’s Umbrella’s production of “The Impossibility of Now” at 12th Avenue Arts through March 31, 2018
Photo: @annabel_clark

Review: The Impossibility of Now by Y York. Produced by Thalia’s Umbrella. Directed by Daniel Wilson. Set and Lighting Design by Roberta Russell. Sound Design by Lucy Peckham. Costume and Prop Design by Kelsey Rogers. With Joshua Carter, Terry Edward Moore, Betsy Schwartz. Now through March 31, 2018 at 12th Avenue Arts. 

Two recently opened new plays from local theater companies both feature writers at the centers of their plots. Neither of the plays are boring; in fact, they’re both rather sweet and clever. And, the central characters in both are misanthropic writers having issues with coping with the world and maintaining interpersonal relationships with friends and family.

Thalia’s Umbrella is staging the world premiere of The Impossibility of Now by Y York. Since I’m a lazy writer, here’s their own synopsis of the play: 

What do you do when your spouse gets conked on the head and wakes up with a terrifying new personality: optimistic happy person?

Miranda and amnesia-stricken husband, Carl, embark on the fractured and funny adventure of starting over.

The Impossibility of Now is a lovely, word-drunk romantic comedy that celebrates rediscovering the joy of life through words.

So, there you have it in a nutshell but let’s elaborate a bit:  Successful writer Carl, who specializes in non-fiction books, including ghost writing the memoirs of other people, has been in a depressive funk for many years when he is seriously injured in a freak accident outside his suburban Las Vegas home. He awakes from a coma with his memory wiped which also frees him from his crippling depression with the result his entire personality and outlook on life has changed. This is problematic for his wife Miranda, a poet and academic, who has lived her own life for the last few years as she inched her way towards leaving Carl but now finds herself confusingly becoming re-involved with “Carl 2.0” even though she has a new adulterous relationship with a pediatric dentist named Anthony.

Anthony suspects that Miranda might be starting to fall back into love with Carl, so he takes it upon himself to put a roadblock to that happening by befriending Carl and giving him some questionable relationship advice.

Comedy ensues.

Or, does it?

To be honest, I didn’t really view The Impossibility of Now as a comedic play. It has some wryly funny moments here and there but they’re mild and mostly bittersweet as Carl awkwardly if not charmingly relearns his way back into society and a new outlook on life. I suppose you could look at Anthony’s machinations as comedic but honestly I just found them to be unlikely and sitcom-y. The exchanges and scenes between Carl and Miranda were interesting and the whole idea of a man relearning his life and how that affects his wife is novel and dramatically compelling. There was a hint of mystery to it all as it unraveled and it wasn’t always apparent where the story was going which is actually a rare thing in drama. Ms York has succeeded in creating a pair of interesting characters and put them into a plot that is freshly original and dynamic. That coupled with her rich use of wordplay makes for some compelling “word rich” dialogue.

But, there is a flaw in The Impossibility of Now and that’s the third character of Anthony, the dentist/lover of the wife Miranda. The character’s role in the plot is to add drama but it’s not very believable or even very interesting; it just feels like Anthony is a plot device from a mediocre TV show. The relationship between Miranda, who is written as an intelligent and artistic woman and Anthony, a rather crass aging “bro” type with poor taste and an active libido seems…unlikely and contrived. Why is Miranda attracted to this yutz? He’s so basic and tacky…is he really good in bed? Why is Miranda willing to have sex with this guy in his dentist office? He’s a pediatric dentist which means she’s having sex with this schmuck while there are kids out in the waiting room. She really doesn’t seem the type to be that creepy.

So, the third character puts a damper on my initial enthusiasm for this play. The falseness of the character and his role in the plot hurts the central story. But, that said, Joshua Carter who plays this icky character does a really good job of playing him. His Anthony is deliciously basic and self-centered. It’s a funny performance but of a character who actually harms the integrity of the rest of the play. “Anthony” needs to go be in his own play.

As for the central characters, Terry Edward Moore gives Carl a lot of rich warmth and depth of character as the “woke” Carl. It’s hard to play childlike wonder as an adult but he makes it credible and charming.

Betsy Schwartz has the toughest role. She has to balance cautious uncertainty and confusion in her original scenes with Carl where she has to channel both her character’s negative feelings towards a man she’s grown to despise as well project a glimmer of optimism that maybe Carl has changed for the better. THEN, she has to play scenes with Anthony where the focus is all on expressions of carnality. She manages both with great skill and passion.

Ms York’s skill at creating meaty dialogue and the strong performances are reason enough to check out The Impossibility of Now. It’s well staged by Daniel Wilson with a simple but effective design. The play itself needs to rethink that third character but overall the play has enough originality and charm to compensate. 

Evan Whitfield, Meg McLynn and the titular big rock in the new play "Big Rock" playing at West of Lenin through March 31, 2018.

Evan Whitfield, Meg McLynn and the titular big rock in the new play “Big Rock” playing at West of Lenin through March 31, 2018.

Review: Big Rock by Sonya Schneider. Produced by Onward Ho! Productions. Directed by Laurel Pilar Garcia. Costume Design by Sarah Mosher. Properties Design by Tori Stephens. Lighting Design by Jessica Trundy. Scenic Design by Julia Hayes Welch. Music and Sound Design by Robertson Witmer. With Meg McLynn, Todd Jefferson Moore, Evan Whitfield. Now through March 31, 2018 at West of Lenin. 

Sonya Schneider’s new play is Big Rock and once again the playwright is premiering a work with Onward Ho! Productions with Laurel Pilar Garcia as director…their last collaboration was the well received 2014 play Royal Blood which was also staged at West of Lenin in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Once again, we have a writer at the heart of the plot of this play with Harris Sands, a misanthropic poet who has moved to a tiny house next to a Big Rock on a tiny island in Washington State. 

Some more plot, focusing mostly on the poet’s daughter:

Signe Sands, an up-and-comer in the world of modern art, has fled the demands of her career in New York City to take refuge at her father’s home on a remote Pacific Northwest island. Immediately faced with the harsh reality of their strained relationship, and the realization that as her star rises, his may be falling, Signe meets an islander with dreams of his own that inspire new points of view. As her time on the big rock comes near its close, Signe must make a choice that could change the course of her life.
That synopsis is actually a bit odd because to me, this play is really about all three of the characters…all three: the aging poet, his artist daughter, sweet local dude with artistic dreams get an equal share of attention.
The three characters are interesting, to a degree, but a chief problem with Big Rock is that they’re not particularly original characters and the plot isn’t especially fresh either. Grumpy old father at odds with bitter daughter. Sweetly naive local helps them heal. Artists with issues. The loss of a partner/parent wrecking havoc on the survivors. Fast talking city folks/slow talking country folks. The healing power of nature/especially ‘big rocks’.  Blah, blah, blah. 
So, it’s not very original but Ms Schneider has a talent for poetic dialogue and the story is compelling enough for an evening of theater though it never really escapes from the clichés of a Hallmark Channel movie. And, we have to question why the sweet yokel love interest has a job at an animal rescue shelter on what is supposed to be a very tiny island…
The three actors all do good jobs even with characters lacking in much originality. Todd Jefferson Moore’s surly whiskey drinking poet, Meg McLynn’s broken hearted bitter daughter/artist and Evan Whitfield’s sweet tempered yokel all have their charms. You enjoy spending 90 minutes with these characters and the actors playing them. 
Big Rock has a very handsome set by Julia Hayes Welch (which does include a very realistic ‘big rock’) and some nicely subtle sound/music design by Robertson Witmer.
It’s not a play I can tell you to cancel your other plans for, but if you like bittersweet father/daughter relationship dramas set on picturesque islands with gentle romantic heroes on the sidelines and featuring some lovely dialogue, then Big Rock is just the show for you. 

 

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