Cast of National Foosball Championship by Jaclyn Backhaus from YOU ACROSS FROM ME, 2018 Humana Festival. Photo by Bill Brymer.
You Across from Me
By Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha, Brian Otaño and Jason Gray Platt
Directed by Jessica Fisch
Performed by the Acting Apprentices of the 2017-2018 Professional Training Company
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
There is electricity in the air during this time of the year at Actors Theatre. Humana Festival is in town and with it patrons are introduced to new and exciting works that get their start on Actors’ stages. Included among these works, the season’s Actors Apprentices get time to shine with You Across from Me.
The play is set up with a rhythm and rhyme Prologue and Epilogue (Platt) that bookends a series of 10 vignettes: A Date with the Family Parts 1-3, Mother’s Blessings (Guha), the origin of the cheese, The National Foosball Championships (Backhaus), Diversity Inclusion, Olive (Otaño), Just Right and Mabel and Clare (Platt).
So, on a Friday night when most audiences and actors would be leaving the theater for the evening, a full house filled the Bingham Theatre and was greeted by an enthusiastic group of Apprentices, standing on the stage with an energy similar to a rodeo horse ready to charge out of its corral.
The evening begins with our actors dressed in work overalls, dancing about the stage while a special entrée is carted around, delivering a delicious Prologue. The lights dim and up come Guha’s first part of A Date with the Family, a clever take on mid-20th century’s idea of a family dinner complete with a voice-over talking us through the normalcy of the event. The kids (Tim Peters, Emily Kaplan) are setting the table while Mother (Suzy Weller) comes out in a lovely crinoline lined dress awaiting her husband (Joseph Miller). The family sits down to enjoy their everyday kind of dinner. Or is it?
The next scene of the evening was Backhaus’ clever the origin of cheese. Unfolded before our eyes on stage is a sumptuous banquet attended by Rembrandt (Nayib Felix) and Jurgens (Brandon Fox), two Elizabethan-era cum 20th Century brothers who imbibe and wax poetic about their excess until there is an attack by The Cheese (Karoline Xu), who delivers a warning about having too much.
In Otaño’s Diversity Inclusion four individuals are vying against one another to be included in a television show that one would surmise to be something akin to “Big Brother” or “The Real World”. Each candidate has a quality about him or her that would fit into the paradigm of the television show, but as each person is interviewed there is a shift in the dynamic. Quite the surprise and cleverly orchestrated.
We return to Part 2 of A Date with the Family with the Announcer (Bear Brummel) still speaking of the normal family, but Mother has a secret and that would be Rachel (Andrea Abello). While a departure from the norm, as it were, I found it could use a bit more work, conceptually.
While Otaño’s Olive had a nice story about losing loved ones and making amends, his two central characters played by Satya Chavez and Sergio Caetano were very difficult to understand at times, often sounding more like mutterings rather than a clear delivery. Platt’s Just Right about a young couple being interviewed by a housing board for an apartment was a cunningly written piece about politics, conformity and the Goldilocks principle.
Ms. Guha’s Mother’s Blessings was perhaps the least entertaining of the evening. While the actors did well in grasping what is considered an Amish tongue and dialect, there were those among the troupe that swallowed their lines, which is quite unfortunate as the storyline was extremely hard to follow when one could not understand even half of the dialogue.
In the third part of A Date with the Family, all of the family is there, but there has been some upheaval with the Father is lying on the floor and the daughter is holding a piece of dinnerware. Meanwhile the Mother and Junior stare in shock and awe. Not quite the ending I would have written but it was a departure.
Platt’s Mabel and Clare is a page out of a Vaudevillian textbook. Mabel (Marika Proctor) and Clare (Nayib Felix) are about to sit down to a lovely dinner but there is a problem with the table being level. What comes next is some fantastically delivered comedic stunts, visuals, and pratfalls. Ms. Proctor and Mr. Felix must have taken care to study some of these techniques as they were delivered with flair.
The final full vignette of the evening was Ms. Backhaus’ eccentric The National Foosball Championships. In a state that considers Basketball a religion, I feel that the use of Foosball fit right in. Junie (Emily Kaplan) is rising in the ranks and delivering feminism against the male-centric world of Foosball as she trades barbs and jabs with her fellow announcer Chip (Calum Bedborough). He bops and weaves away from the topic of equal inclusion throughout the evening, but Junie doesn’t give up. Meanwhile, the Foosball Championship takes place between Trent (Joseph Miller) and The Butterfly, Lily-Anne (Emily Kleypas), who is the first woman to reach the championships. The action within Championships is fun, light-hearted and engaging, even inviting while we watch the cheerleaders cheer and actors positioned throughout the theatre jeer.
As the evening comes to a close in Platt’s Epilogue, the whole of the ensemble begins to assemble a large table and begin to sit around and tell us how important it is to find the time to commune, sit and talk and get to know one another.
M.L. Dogg’s sound design was well curated, as was Jessica Pabst’s costume design (especially the origin of cheese). A great job from stage manager Katherine Thesing, who had her work cut out for her in managing many moving parts and many actors.
We have some very talented apprentices working at Actors right now that I believe will go on to great things as was demonstrated in You Across from Me. And to the Playwrights, please keep writing.
You Across From Me
March 23 – April 8, 2018
Part of the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.