Don't You Ever Call Me Anything But Mother
A year or two ago, I was walking on Van Ness when a woman approached me and told me an incoherent hard-luck story, after which I gave her some money and walked away. Seeing John O'Keefe's 1983 play is a lot like that experience, except, of course, you pay first. The publicity materials note the show ran for over a year in L.A., yet its opacity would seem to make that impossible. Helen Shumaker is Doris, a pathetic woman living in squalor who rails at her unseen son while slogging around her apartment, drinking beer, smoking, pushing piles of dirty clothes about, and knocking over lamps. Her grip on reality is loose, and at one point she dolls herself up, Baby Jane-style, and explains sex in lurid, unhinged terms before finally falling asleep on the couch. There are interminable pauses throughout. No doubt this is an interesting acting exercise for Shumaker, who's done all her work and is fully in character, but it ain't theater.
2 Pianos, 4 Hands
What if you sacrificed most of your childhood to classical piano, went cockily off to a conservatory, learned Bach's (67-page) D Minor Concerto just to show up your friend, but reached the limits of your talent as a young man and failed to become a musician? Well, cheer up -- there's hope for you in the theater. 2 Pianos, 4 Hands is a Canadian import by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, two classically trained pianists, about their careers as young musical prodigies. The show is a vaudevillian caricature of life as a "piano nerd" in which Gregory Charles and Jean Marchand play Greenblatt and Dykstra on a stage set with two grand pianos and three scrims for background projections. In sometimes-funny routines they take turns being pupil, parent, instructor, and maestro as, under a series of crazy adults, they grow up, compete, and fail. The work isn't purely autobiographical -- Dykstra and Greenblatt didn't meet until they were both actors -- but the scenes showing piano-nerd competitiveness are the best. At one point the boys kick a piano bench out from under each other's butts while gracefully rendering Mozart's Duet in D Major. It's light, bubbly entertainment. Charles and Marchand act well enough, but I suspect the reason they got a standing ovation on opening night is that the audience was so ravished to hear actual classical music during a play.
--Michael Scott Moore
Love Songs for Reagan Babies
At its worst (mainly in the ensemble scenes), Love Songs threatens to be a portrait of Woman, the Many-Headed Goddess, but the eight monologues that make up the bulk of the script aim to reveal specific lives, and these sometimes-realized efforts save M.L. O'Connor's play. The best piece is the first -- Karen Walsh is Maud, a "word sculptor" who composes and performs poems about love in order to distance herself from her own experiences, which intrude anyway. Walsh describes without self-pity or self-indulgence how, in an effort to be popular, Maud erased her personality in college and ended up lonely, with a boyfriend who beat her. Walsh's great, invisible technique provides an extremely moving portrait. Lucy Choi does wonders with the shallowly written Lori, who steadfastly believes in the world according to Cosmo, even though her own experience belies it, and Jonica Patella charms as Fran, who dispenses advice, history, and gossip when asked for driving directions. Sarah Jebian as Penelope, who waits for her husband to return (like her Homeric namesake), can't do much with the unimaginative writing, while Aimee Barile as Laura adopts a vague Long Island accent that's more caricature than character. Mia Lobel is good as the newly-in-love Cara, but the writing here also lacks resonance. Randy Sterns' girlishness as Evie isn't quite right, but her section touches on Vietnam in new and surprising ways. And Arwen Anderson over-theatricizes as the intriguing Prentice, a talented singer angry at being expected to veil her pride. Director Zanne Burdick adds some unnecessary business between scenes, but as a whole, the show has a complete vision. (Kristin Burgess' beautiful lighting and David Kaufman's simple music help immensely.) Despite the flaws, the erinys theater company mounts an admirable, technically assured production.