Joe Straw #9
By Joe Straw
Sunday, June 12, 2016
There are many reasons I see plays. One main reason is to watch actors create a relationship that is honest and represents a truth, all the while reaching for a strong creative objective – what characters want from each other.
Charlotte’s Shorts by Charlotte Dean directed by Tracy Newman and Charlotte Dean playing at The Actors Company (Let Live Theater), 916 N. Formosa, through June 26th, is a series of vignettes, of smidgeons of life, brought together, one actor at a time, to read from the podium.
It is funny, somewhat crass, raucous, and includes flashes that are outstanding and poignant. Certainly Dean’s approach to writing is heuristic in nature and presents a natural way of improving her craft.
The night had moments that lifted my eyes from the notepad. I can best describe it as “character turn” – when a character says something that strikes at the heart and changes the relationship with the audience. I don’t remember the specific moments, but I know they hit home. Let me think about them for a few minutes. I’ll get back to you.
It is tough to create a relationship when the other person is absent. Each actor acts alone at the podium. Still, the actors do their best to produce another being by their stead. And for the most part, they do. There are wonderful moments, of critical pause, of a nervous reaction from an imaginary action, all told in grand story time fashion.
I know the actors can act – Andrew Friedman was brilliant in Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones (see write up on this blog). Who can forget living legend Laraine Newman, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live – a slyboots if ever there was one. I still remember lines she said back in the seventies; I often repeat them to anyone who needs a smile.
But was it enough? Well, for me, yes. The night flew by quickly; everyone had a good time catching that spark of originality and that is half the battle.
She’s just a Texas country girl, sitting by the side of the creek with one foot wading in the water, holding a book, wearing her straw hat, and looking at someone, under a starry night. Well, that’s the image on the one sheet. How that relates to the play, I don’t know but I can guess. Let me get back to you on that one.
Charlotte Dean and Tracy Newman, the directors, effectively manage the actors and one can only imagine what direction is given when accomplished actors are reading from the podium. Still, effectively done.
I want to write about the actors. I am uncertain about how this is going to go over as a write up but writing is all about breaking rules.
Andrew Friedman was the first up – the one to start the show. Funny but he looks like an Uncle Bob with that mustache. I don’t have an Uncle Bob, maybe you do. I got the impression he was playing a young man in Primitive Survival Skills, able to kill a snake and make a fire. But where was this was going? Well, I haven’t a clue. In Little Dwarfy he was incarcerated (prison) and had all these grand ideas about what he was going to do when he got out although, truth be told, I didn’t think he would ever get out. In Zero Latinas, Friedman used a prop baby (I wasn’t aware that props were permitted in this forum.). Anyway, he was married and unhappy and living in Cleveland. What a supremely delightful combination.
Tim Bagley, appeared tall on stage, he is white and makes funny voices. His tongue was twisted in Christmas Letter where he plays a little boy, who doesn’t like his sister or his mom’s boyfriend, and writes to Santa about his predicament. These moments hit home. Later, Bagley plays a girl, an introspective one at that, who says things and then thinks about the verbal crimes she has just committed, often dismissing them with a twist of her head. This was hilarious and these are things you love to see actors do, think in character on stage. Still, later, Bagley reads raucous like no other in the short, Isabel.
Anastacia McPherson has hands and she uses them. Up here, down there, they have a life of their own. Her hands are like roller coasters, rising, giggling, and with a certain amount of g-forces. It’s not so much what she is saying because my eyes were following her fingers. Oh, and she’s pretty too, dark, a lovely completion. What did she say in Vodka Tonics, Shortest Giraffe, and Mustache Bitch? Whatever her hands told me.
Bridget Sienna loves love. Finishing a Chili’s meat product and on her way out, obliquely prowling for human companionship, she meets the most wonderful man who, at this moment, is eating short ribs. Forget that he is with someone else. A smile passed between them and she runs home and spills her guts on Facebook “I met the man of my dreams”. Oh, this is a dark fantasy. That male person would look happier if he was with her, not his wife. “Finding a soul mate is hard.” Later in Roommate Wanted, she turns to the dark side and seeks a black man in a personal ad: “Not black, please don’t respond.”
Laraine Newman does what she does so well. Funny little girl voice in I Want the Backpack. It’s about a birthday party that got cancelled because one of the girls had lice. That backpack gift was themed Elsa from Frozen. Now in her possession, she wants it. In The Proposal, she wishes her intended to know that if he were dead she would eat him before he rots. Not inclined to just throw him on the grill, she would cook him with special herbs and spices. It is a macabre love story that proposes honorable intentions of his remains. She says it with a smile, of course. One would rethink getting into that relationship.
Jordan Black plays a man named Donald Bigbelow, a gaucherie writer who pens pulp sexual mysteries. Off the top of my head, when I first heard, especially the way he pronounced, the name Bigbelow, I thought wow, that’s an unusual name. I wondered if it was French, certainly not English, and definitely not African. After he read passages from his book, I got the reference. It is a self-aggrandizement, promoting his literary acumen, as well as, the overwhelming immensity of his natural God-given girth. Black is certainly locked into this character, Bigbelow, in The Playboy Mansion, Martin Luther King Day, and Who’s Booty is That? And certainly this is a character he can ride for a while. When he sat down, I saw someone who was having the time of his life.
Oh my Gosh. I almost forgot about Hanna Einbinder, an actor who pushes some serious button with her style. A strong voice, a very nice presence and interesting characterizations in No Mom, Dear Karen, Best Sellers.
Lynne Marie Stewart, H. Michael Croner, Navaris Darson and Lisa Schurga are also in the cast but did not perform the night I was there.
Charlotte’s Shorts by Charlotte Dean is a tasty treat, a vanilla cone at Foster Freeze. And the shorts are the jarring brain freeze moments of delight. But what worked best for me were the characters that remained the same throughout – Donald Bigbelow and the Bridget Sienna character. It actually gave me enough time to figure out the characters, their foibles, and witness them expose their deep selves, inside the cones.
While the other actors, in different characters, stand alone on a hideous precipice. They take the supreme risk of having their work succeed or take an imaginary step forward. But, either way, good or not so good, it’s all about the actor’s journey.
Run! Run! And take someone who likes yogurt with more sprinkles, fruits, and candies than yogurt.