The Bunbury Dramedy Festival
Unwrap Your Candy and Wildwood Park – By Doug Wright
For Whom the Southern Belle Tolles – by Christopher Durang
The Chalky White Substance – by Tennessee Williams
I’m Herbert – by Robert Anderson
Directed by Juergen Tossmann
Review by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
The Bunbury Dramedy Festival, directed by Juergan Tossman, opened this Friday at the Henry Clay Theatre. The evening is composed of a series of one-act plays written by various authors. Except for one piece by Tennessee Williams, the choice of plays is highly contemporary, even a little edgy. The problem is that the plays seemed quite disparate as far as style, and I found myself looking for a unifying theme throughout the evening.
The festival opens with Doug Wright’s Please Unwrap Your Candy, a satirical examination of audience behavior and thinking. Candy is the opening play for a series of one-acts written by this playwright. In a voiceover, we hear the characters’ thoughts while the actors mime facial expressions in response to the voiceover. It’s very clever and funny and the actors pick up on the quirkiness of the piece. The play was originally intended to open Wright’s own evening of one-acts, and sets up a very specific tone and sensibility.
The opening is followed by Wildwood Park, another Doug Wright play from the same series. It is a Hitchcock-like mystery about an overly neurotic real estate agent, Mrs. Haviland (Cindy Schrader), who is trying to sell a house in which a family was killed. She has a would-be buyer, Dr. Simian (Allen Schuler), but he seems a little too interested in the lurid details of the killing. The play has a quirky, thriller, odd-ball quality to it. The director could have clarified the tone a bit, as I wasn’t sure if I was watching a mystery, a thriller, a goofy comedy or some combination of both. If there were an early subtle indication that something was not quite right about the doctor, the ending might have been clearer. Schrader plays up the neuroticism of Mrs. Haviland very well but sometimes overplays the emotional moments. There is a sweet line in which the doctor calls the weeping agent “a sad little monkey.” It’s so odd but is expressed with such tenderness by Schuler that I wished for more moments of connection and honesty like that one.
Wildwood Park is followed by I’m Herbert, a play about an elderly couple who can’t seem to get the details of their lives straight. The couple, Herbert (Dale Strange) and Muriel (Diane Kane), keep mixing each other up with ex-wives and husbands. For a play of this length, I expected it to go a little deeper as the memory jokes get repetitive. It also stood in sharp contrast to Woodland Park, and as an audience member it was hard to transition from the unsettled feeling of the latter play to the more humorous sketch of a doddering elderly couple.
The second act of the evening is composed of the Chalky White Substance by Tennessee Williams and Durang’s Glass Menagerie parody, For Whom the Southern Belle Tolles. Again, Williams’ dark, poetic, post-apocalyptic vision being adjacent to Durang’s dark parody comedy was somewhat jarring emotionally. That being said, For Whom the Southern Belle Tolles was the best storytelling of the evening. Nissa Nicholee as Amanda is a strong and completely credible Southern belle and mother, and she is well supported by an earnest cast.
A simple adjustment in the order of the plays may have given the evening a more unified feel. For instance placing the dramas first and ending on comedy rather than mixing them up so much could have brought out more of the humor and poetry that is so inherent in the work.
The Bunbury Dramedy Festival
October 4-13, 2013
Bunbury Theatre Company
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street