Play: “An Evening of One-Acts”
Group: First Run Theatre
Venue: Hunter Theatre, DeSmet Jesuit High School, 233 North New Ballas Road
Dates: January 21, 22, 23
Tickets: $10-$12; contact 314-352-5114 or www.firstruntheatre.com
Story: In Courtney Kennedy’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” a young woman is determined to start a new life and escape her humdrum existence in a small town. She calls her mother to give her the news, then unexpectedly runs into her former boyfriend. He left her several years earlier to attend college and later took a job in the big city. Now, he has returned with news about his new life and that he is about to marry a young woman he has met. Or will he?
Bill Borst’s “A Moment of Grace” focuses on the chance meeting of two people on an elevator in a high-rise building on a late Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. As the elevator stalls and they become trapped between floors, their awkward conversation leads to some surprising revelations about both the woman and the man.
Highlights: First Run Theatre specializes in showcasing original works by local playwrights. These two one-act dramas are given professional interpretations by a small but energetic cast under the direction of accomplished performer/director Anna Blair, who guides the players through these brief exercises.
Other Info: While both plays are comprised of one act, Kennedy’s is barely more than an extended scene that has difficulty generating any kind of momentum. The title and the story itself are a variation on the hit pop tune of the same name by the rock group Journey 30 or so years ago, with several lines from the song dropped deliberately into the script and even alluded to in Adam Rosen’s original composition which supports the action on stage.
Sofia Murillo plays the protagonist, a young woman named Myra Lee who calls her mother from the pay phone at a gas station across the street to tell her pushy mom that she is leaving town in search of a better life. Fran Jackson has the thankless task of portraying the trailer-trash mother, garishly outfitted by costume designer Alexandra Quigley to match her shabby surroundings. Matt Steiner completes the cast as erstwhile boyfriend Ryan Mapplethorpe (no risqué photographer he, however), a button-down type who quickly blurts out his reason for visiting the old homestead.
Kennedy’s idea for a play needs to be much more developed beyond this glimmer of a theatrical thought to have any real impact. It is, however, mercifully short.
Not so with Borst’s piece about a blustering professor and a troubled nurse who meet by chance on an elevator. Despite some oddly hysterical pronouncements by both at the start of their journey, they eventually settle into a truce of sorts as they explain, albeit defensively, who they are and why they both happen to be in this spot at this time, revealing much along the way.
While didactic and a bit obvious in its point of view, Borst’s story does have some dimension and depth, and is aided by some nice work by Susan Elaine Rasch as the benevolent and grief-stricken nurse. As the professor, Joseph O’Connor seems too often to go over the top delivering his lines, a problem that could emanate from Borst’s script guidelines, Blair’s direction or O’Connor’s interpretation. In any case, it doesn’t work, resulting more in irritation than illumination.
The set design by Brad Slavik and George Wagner makes a lot out of a little, thanks to a large color photo in the background that serves as the gas station in the first play, which also includes Mommie Dearest’s trash-strewn abode on one side and a pay phone at the other. Some drapes that close off the stage save for a large enclosure that serves as an elevator get the job done with the second drama. Erich Suellentrop and Jim Meady provide the lighting, while Blair contributes props.
Considering that these plays were chosen from among other entrants, one can only guess as to the caliber of the works rejected. Kudos to cast, crew and writers, though, for giving it the old college try.
Rating: A 2 on a scale of 1-to-5.