REVIEW: Hubbard Hall one-acts absurdly beautiful

Posted
Wednesday November 16, 2011

The phrase "beauty of absurdity" may best describe the current evening of one-act plays by the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall -- but you should understand that some of life's absurdities tug at the heart as much as tickle the funny bone.

"Thrills, Spills and Lonely Hearts: An Evening of One Act Plays," the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall 2011-2012 season opener, is an evening divided into familiar and fresh, dated and timeless, outright laugh-out-loud comedy and scenes of subtle smiles that hide a sad heart.

The four-weekend run of one-acts opened Nov. 11 and will continue Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 4.

Presented are short plays by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and -- of course -- Anton Chekhov; there are also new works by John Hadden, new artistic director of Hubbard Hall's theater company, and respected contemporary writer Mary-Ann Greanier. All in all, a couple of the plays shine on the Hall's stage; most are well worth seeing; one may be a Chekhov too far.

After listening to bouncy piano prelude tunes by Gary Schmidt, who also enjoyably accompanies and segues between various plays, the evening opens with Beckett's "Come and Go." Christine Decker, who is the busiest actor of the evening, leads Deb Foster and Deb Borthwick as a trio of dear old lady friends in a sketch about sweet nostalgia and pretty pettiness. It is minimalist absurdity at its best. My wife counted a total of 85 words of dialogue, so that is good enough for me; and the play really is driven more by what is unspoken, and whispered, than what is said, anyway.

The second one-act, "The Qunicy and Antoinette Kraczlik Variety Show," written and acted by Hadden (with a brief appearance by Decker) is described as being the ambassador to Uzbekhistan, and his wife, taking their hand at cabaret. It is a one-man monologue -- with a slightly Monty Python-esque feel -- about being civil, and entertaining, at the ends of the world if not at the end of the world (as we know it). It may all be absurd, but as Hadden's Quincy assures his audience, and us, "it is a whole new world out there" and at the theater at the end of the world you only get 10 minutes. And you certainly don't mind spending 10 slightly strange minutes with Quincy.

The final one-act before intermission is Chekhov's "The Proposal," a well-worn story of a rather clueless young man visiting a neighbor to propose to the daughter of the house. Handled properly, the play is fast-paced wackiness and cast properly the role of Ivan, the love-struck hypochondriac, is an opportunity for a comedic tour de force; here, the "on and off" pace is perfect and the "clueless yet eccentric" work of Doug Ryan is even more perfect. Erik Barnum and Katherine Stevenson, as the neighbor father and daughter, are good, but watching Ryan bounce off the walls -- or, better yet, drag himself around the stage, leads to a heart attack of laughs. "Wait, wait, here it comes ..."

After the intermission, Decker steals the evening with a somber, bittersweet short by Greanier titled "Conversation Hearts." The playbill says the unnamed character is a "deserted lover" but she could just as easily be a woman who has lost her beloved and, remembering the good and bad, tells a tale of the lonely heart. Greanier's talking heart candy dialogue is stunning, and Decker makes the words memorable. Not the most comfortable moments of the evening, but clearly the finest.

Pinter's "Night" comes next, with Decker and Robert Forgett playing two long-time lovers who have lost their past, if not their love. Both actors are good -- and Pinter is, well, Pinter -- so the audience's time, and focus on the subtle, intricate dialogue, is worth the effort.

The final one-act of the event is a return to Chekhov, "The Wedding," with a cast of thousands -- OK, 11, including Decker again. And while Decker, Barnum and Ryan have their moments, the finale seems more a reason to get everybody on stage for their moment than anything else. And, you know, "The Proposal" is better. Of course, "The Wedding" does send the audience off with a smile and a bounce after the somber works by Greanier and Pinter, and maybe that is what everybody else wanted.

For me, the beauty of absurdity, and one-acts, is not always laughable.

* * *

The direction of Hadden, along with assistant director Janet Scurria, is good throughout -- things happen quickly and smoothly during and in-between plays. The staging is minimalist and proper (with maybe only a green bean out of place). Contact K.D. Norris at knorris@benningtonbanner.com.

Hubbard Hall is located at 25 East Main Street. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 3, at 8 p.m., and Sundays, through Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. For information and tickets call 518-677-2495 or visit hubbardhall.org. Doors open 30 minutes prior to show time; and tickets are available at the door unless otherwise noted on the website.


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