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Autobahn: Theater Review - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

Autobahn: Theater Review

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Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012 4:19 pm | Updated: 12:20 pm, Tue Feb 21, 2012.

Story: This two-act cycle of seven short plays shows various pairs of characters involved in situations played out on the front seat of an automobile. Funny depicts a one-way conversation by an errant daughter being picked up from rehab by her mother. In Bench Seat, a young man grows increasingly disturbed as his girlfriend recounts the revenge she sought after being dumped by a previous boyfriend at the same locale where they find themselves parked.

Road Trip shows a middle-age man journeying to a secret hideaway with a young and impervious female student. In Long Division, two guys attempt to get back video games and a console of the one whose wife has just thrown him out of the house. A husband uneasily tries to extract details of a convention trip rendezvous from his now-sober wife while driving her home in Merge. The All Apologies skit features a man attempting to excuse all manner of bad behavior in eliciting sympathy from a woman driver, while in Autobahn a foster mother rationalizes to her husband her decision to send a foster child away from their care.

Highlights: Good acting drives the Soundstage Productions/R-S Theatrics presentation of this septet of skits by noted American playwright Neil LaBute. The one-time theater major at Brigham Young University has built a career on crude characters driven by self-interest and an almost sociopathic indifference to how they hurt or destroy others on their way to self-gratification, such as in The Shape of Things, Fat Pig or Bash: Latter-Day Plays. Here, however, his modestly sketched characters are for the most part more befuddled than blasphemous, more amusing than anarchic.

Other Info: A quartet of directors capably steers this production over some occasionally rocky roads to a welcome destination. I’m not sure who directed what, but in every case GP Hunsaker, Mark Kelley, Nick Moramarco and Landon Shaw has guided his duo of performers on an agreeable and entertaining journey within the narrow lanes of LaBute’s erratic plots.

Most annoying are two skits, Funny and All Apologies, in which only one of the characters speaks. That’s OK at first and even acceptable to a great extent, but it becomes tedious when carried to an illogical extreme in both cases. I mean, nary a comment from the driver about consistently unacceptable behavior? I doubt it. And yet, in Funny, Ellie Schwetye is all engaging as a self-centered teen girl who casually drones on about her needs and impulses while good ol’ Mom (a silent Janice Mantovani) grips the wheel.

Phil Leveling and Betsy Bowman are pretty much wasted in All Apologies, even if it does have some humorous moments. They’re much more capably showcased in the fitfully amusing Bench Seat, particularly as Bowman slowly reveals her dim-witted character’s penchant for vengeance as Leveling grows increasingly, and humorously, uneasy.

Mark Abels and Caroline Kidwell excel in the series’ most disturbing piece, Road Trip, with Abels as an adult who seems at first to be the concerned, paternal type until he begins to drop insidious hints and make uncomfortable gestures towards his youthful, and captive, passenger. Kidwell finely conveys the unknowing innocence of the girl, although the plot never makes clear how she happens to be in a car with this man and making this mysterious trip.

Mantovani and Abels are splendid in Merge as a middle-age couple who sound entirely familiar to anyone who’s been married for more than a few years. That recognition underscores the humor that LaBute skillfully develops as the wife casually reveals more and more details of an unfortunate incident that may not have gone exactly the way her husband originally contemplated. Both performers display solid comic timing that propels this piece throughout.

In Long Division, Jared Sanz-Agero offers a wacky portrayal of a good ol’ boy driving his pal back to the latter’s house to pick up his buddy’s beloved video game system. Never mind that his friend (Leveling, again in good form) has lost his wife, his kids and his home; it’s a man’s God-given American right to take back the video system he bought with his own hard-earned cash.

Schwetye and Sanz-Agero finish off the evening with the unsatisfying title skit, with Schwetye rambling on about the married couple’s ungrateful foster son as the long-suffering husband somewhat wearily keeps his distance, physically and emotionally, from his self-absorbed wife.

Kudos to artistic director Christina Rios and managing director Randy Stinebaker for bringing this interesting and entertaining piece to a local stage. It’s the last presentation by their companies at the ArtSpace in Crestwood Court before they move their operations to the Black Cat Theatre in Maplewood.

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Play: Autobahn

Group: Soundstage Productions/R-S Theatrics

Venue: ArtSpace, 220 Crestwood Court, Sappington at Watson

Dates: February 24, 25, 26

Tickets: $15; contact 968-8070 or rstheatrics@yahoo.com

Photos courtesy of Autumn Rinaldi

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