Keith McGill, Ryan Lash, Jay Marie Padilla, & Vanessa Hutchison in The Houseguests. Photo: Liminal Playhouse
By Harry Kondeleon
Directed by Tony Prince
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Where does Tony Prince find these plays? While The Liminal Playhouse has produced a few plays that have won plaudits, awards, and commercial success (Clybourne Park) the company has always gone out of its way to choose scripts that are very much off the beaten path. Obscure is a word that comes to mind.
And while we should welcome a broadening of the range of theatre available to us – let’s face it, some shows get staged too often – that embrace of risk can also be frustrating. How can I write a review when I am certain a couple of days of reflection will perhaps bring greater insight?
In what begins as a comedy of manners and social class, Vera (Vanessa Hutchison) and John (Keith McGill) are awaiting the arrival of Manny (Ryan Lash) and Gale (Jay Padilla-Hayter) into their home as houseguests, even though their dialogue is full of droll insults about the couple and about themselves. Vera and John display certain viscous misanthropy in their attitudes; John droll and urbane, and Vera armed with a cruel, acid tongue.
By contrast, Manny and Gale are stereotypical middle-class suburbanites, except he is as earnest and gullible as his tacky floral print shorts, while she seems to be hiding a secret or two under her loose, flowing mu-mu. By the time intermission arrives, things have taken a turn for the absurd.
The turnabout in act two is wildly unexpected and ludicrous, a low comedy of human suffering that pushed the boundaries of taste and comfort. We laugh at the calamities that befall these characters, but should we?
Keith McGill is mock suave draping over the furniture in a stylish red robe and giving John the comic authority he requires. Vanessa Hutchison is his equal, statuesque but mean-spirited. They are relatively subdued compared to the other couple. Ryan Lash’s Manny is the epitome of the befuddled mid-20th century nerd and earns the best early laughs with his adroit physicality. Gale is the riskiest role, moving from daft to lascivious to hysterical, and Jay Marie Padilla manages to not quite overdo a character that invites scenery-chewing. By which I mean, by the time she digs her teeth into the set, the play has built to a pitch of absurdity that nearly demands it, and Padilla leans into it with guts.
The costumes were nicely realized, although a few details proved annoying; a slit dress that revealed more than it should, and dummy arm casts that were worn incorrectly. The minimalist design of the first act is expanded slightly to reflect the chaos and desperation of the character’s fate in the second act. Maybe that reflects budget limitations but would elaborate sets do anything but provide the opportunity to push the baroque qualities of the play to heights that would distract? Or would a more developed degree of camp be just what the doctor ordered? Either way, The Houseguests seems a little of a departure for Liminal Playhouse, a slightly bonkers exercise in social commentary that makes for a unique evening of theatre.
October 15 – 23, 2021
Please be fully vaccinated and wear your mask.
Tickets are $22 day of the show or $20 in advance at https://TheLiminalPlayhouse.org.
The Liminal PlayhouseThe Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.