Oldcastle hosts raucous "Play Date"

BENNINGTON -- Playwright John Morogiello is an emerging master of short plays, and the world premiere of his new 90-minute (with no intermission) farce, "Play Date," at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, delivers a fun time for any audience.

Oldcastle got the jump on all other regional Equity theatres with the opening of its 2014 season, in a two-week run of Morogiello's screamer, directed by co-founder and artistic director, Eric Peterson.

The action finds us in the home of Missy (Sandy York) and Blaine (Jim Staudt). The former sets up a play date for their son while the latter over schedules a political exploratory session with prospective campaign donors in his quest for a state senate seat.

Invited to join in the fun (with children, of course) are the divorced Jersey Shore-type Carol, who has four sons but craves a sperm donor to give her a girl, and the matronly Southern perfectionist Deb, both played by York.

Rounding out the male triad are the Lothario TV actor Trent, who seems to have amorous connections with all females present, and Rowan, a British literature professor and widower who ruminates himself out of action in the best tradition of Hamlet. Staudt plays all the male parts.

Morogiello's somewhat predictable script is taken to a higher plane courtesy of these two outstanding Thespians. Also, Peterson's ability to flesh out the best physical comedy from his charges, all while giving them leeway to rake their verbal machine-gunning at each other, delights the senses.

In addition, every character had a chance to breech the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience in twists that veered away from the comedy and into persona development and revelation.

In the middle of the laughter and scatology, and the frenzy of illicit relationships, wind sprints and slamming doors, some poignant moments emerged when least expected.

One was Staudt's soliloquy of Rowan wishing his daughter die in childbirth (for reasons to be told in person), and York - a matchless stage talent - pondering Deb's inner struggle with perfection, when she viewed herself as anything but.

Richard Howe's set design was pleasingly representative, and logistically enabling, allowing the players to run circles around their multiple roles. These changes were enhanced by the clever, modular costumes courtesy of Christine Decker and Kelsey Banulis, and some masterful hairstyle tweaks.

Lighting during these shifts was critical, and David V. Groupe's planning and design excelled. Sound by Cory Wheat could have been less affected when it came to some of the voices, but remained exceptionally well-timed otherwise.

Gary Allan Poe's stage management was tight given the split-second accuracy needed in the many movements of the players. And in all the little unsexy details surrounding this production, company manager Amanda Garcia deserves a shout-out.

Morogiello's farce was raucous and in mid-summer form. His previous Oldcastle world premiere, "Engaging Shaw," has gone on to global paeans, and we should expect nothing less of "Play Date" - when he enhances the script, a natural step in new play development.

What we should also expect is a few more seats filled at Oldcastle. Now in the second season in its new downtown home, the venerable Vermont stage company offers what is arguably the region's most intimate and versatile viewing experience.

As such, more people need to fill that arena, because missing out on the excellence of Peterson's company - "Play Date" included - is not a laughing matter.

"Play Date" runs through May 25 at Oldcastle Theatre Company at 331 Main St. in Bennington, Vt. For tickets and information call 802-447-0564 or visit www.oldcastletheatre.org.

Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic and an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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