Wednesday, July 11, 2012

SVSU's "Absurd Person Singular" a hilarious night at the theater

review by Janet I. Martineau
photo by Katrina Robinson
A capacity audience nearly laughed itself to death Tuesday night when Saginaw Valley State University opened its four-night run of “Absurd Person Singular.”

Quite an accomplishment given the fact it deals with such dark issues as infidelity, attempted suicide, depression, alcoholism, economic downturn, bullying, gossiping, and the ups and downs of friendship.
Jordan Stafford and Mykaela Hopps in an Act II scene
But guffaw we did...often with deep belly laughs in one of the funniest plays SVSU has produced. Probably because, as the woman next to me said, “It’s so real.”

Quite an accomplishment there too, given the fact “Absurd” is of the farce genre. It hovers delicately and beautifully  between the stark reality of our lives and being too broad in making light of it.
The 2 1/2 hours simply flew by as director Tommy Wedge and his six cast members totally delivered the goods in portraying three English couples suffering through through three Christmas parties (last, this and next). 

Act II, dealing with attempted suicide, was  one of the funniest farcical acts I’ve ever seen and the cast’s timing of it was impeccable. 
Presented in the snug Black Box Theater, every nuance and inflection is “in your face” from the actors ...  as well as the acrid smell of bug spray and even a drop of water from a kitchen sink encounter.
Mykaela Hopps delivers stony stares and chilling looks that could kill, and her silence and physicality in Act II gets funnier and funnier the longer it continues. Jordan Stafford’s  double takes are hilarious. Rustin Myers squints his eyes as if nearly blind when trying to read something and pushes his head backward when intimidating his wife.
Jessica Rockwell is a riot donning her rain gear, emptying her oversized galoshes of rain water, cleaning the oven, cowering when her hubby bellows. With Erica Tatum it is a bored and sarcastic roll of the eyes. And when David Ryan gets an electric jolt, his shakes never stop.
Part of the fun is to divert the eyes from the person or persons speaking, the focus of the action, and watch instead the silent actors reacting -- always in total character. Fun, too, is watching the audience members watching -- since this thrust stage puts them right across from you with the actors in between.
Simply put, there is more than the eye can often take in with this show since there are bits of business everywhere.
Physical antics and body English aside, the Alan Ayckbourn script also sports more than a few hilarious lines. “Sexual flying Dutchman” is one. A few others are  politically incorrect so we won’t repeat them. And when the Hopps character finally finds her “voice,” yikes!
A piece of advice if you go see the show -- DO NOT leave the theater during the two short intermissions. Watching the crew, director Wedge himself among them, is every bit as entertaining as they quickly transform the set since the three-scene show takes place in three dwellings. Washing machines are shoved out and ovens in. A huge dog crate replaces a storage cabinet. Christmas trees change. A huge kitchen island is shoved to the other end to serve as a work island.
And what is that set-changing crew wearing for this dark stocking caps with Bah Humbug!  written on them.
A fun time at the theater, with a little bite to it for good measure, does not come come much better than this production.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SVSU opens challenging play "Absurd Person Singular" on July 10

“Absurd Person Singular”
SVSU Black Box Theatre
7:30pm Tuesday-Friday (July 10-13)
$10, ($7 seniors and students)
by Janet I. Martineau
Three couples, three kitchens, three Christmas Eve parties...and as the plot thickens, the lower class duo of the trio rises to the top of an ever-evolving social status roster.
That, in a nutshell, is the plotline of “Absurd Person Singular,” a 1972 British play opening a four-night run Tuesday at Saginaw Valley State University.
“It has lots of layers,” says director Tommy Wedge of the Alan Ayckbourn play. “It is a farcical tragic comedy. I hope people who come and see it laugh hard and have a good time....but then have something to think about when they go home because a lot just doesn’t sit right.
“I think this is one of the hardest comedies (to stage) out there. And it is an ensemble work. There are six characters in this play and all six are lead roles. All the parts are equally challenging as the play explores their relationships to each other.”
From left,  Rustin Myers, Erica Tatum, David Ryan, Jessica Rockwell
Including the second act during which one of the characters speaks not a single word AND tries to end her life seven times “but the rest of the characters are so self-absorbed they don’t realize what she is doing.

"The second act is the most farcical act but the characters all take it  seriously. They are so busy trying to look happy that they forget to be happy.”
What the audience witnesses is “behind the scenes” dialogue. The actual Christmas parties are taking place offstage; the action is set is the kitchen, where the real dirt is dished up in “private.” 

And in a nod, perhaps, to Charles Dickens and “A Christmas Carol,” the time periods are Last Christmas, This Christmas and Next Christmas.
“Last Christmas” is set in the lower class home of Jane and Sidney Hopcrofts, who are anxiously giving a party for their bank manager and an architect neighbor and their wives. The Hopcrofts are played by SVSU seniors Jessica Rockwell and Rustin Myers.
“This Christmas” shifts to the kitchen of the architect and his wife, Geoffrey and Eva Jackson, in a flat menaced by their huge, psychotic dog George. The Jacksons are played by SVSU junior Jordan Stafford and sophomore Mykaela Hopps.
And in Next Christmas” the action moves to the upper class Victorian home of the  bank manager and his wife, Ronald and Marion Brewster-Wright, They are played by SVSU junior David Ryan and Erica Tatum, currently a student at Kirtland Community College but who will transfer to SVSU in the winter term. 
Each act, says Wedge, also has a huge ongoing joke in progress.
-- Wedge says all six actors have been strongly coached on speaking a proper British English dialect. 
-- Given the small space of SVSU’s Black Box Theater, the three very different kitchens will be more minimal than totally detailed. Since the play’s script does not assign years,  Wedge and crew are setting it in the 1990s.
-- The fine line that the show is a farce but not a farce, says Wedge. Rather than use the typical farce device of many doors opening and closing, he says, the playwright employs pauses as well as synchronizing off-stage party talk with the door that opens to the kitchen.
As for the title, Wedge advises not trying to make sense of it in light of the action. It has no connection to the play, he says, but instead was a stock title  Ayckbourn applied to it, plucked from an earlier abandoned play and before he had written a single word.