Living Image Arts’s presentation of one-act plays, Coming Home, asks (by way of a byline), “Have you ever come back to a home you don’t remember?” and promises to explore the question with three “poignant, powerful, and funny” plays. The program is not without its twinklings of inspiration, but the lack of sophistication in all three pieces produces a plodding, tedious, and flat evening.
Reviewed by Sarah Krasnow
Coming Home is not without twinklings of inspiration, but on the whole, its lack of sophistication produces a plodding, tedious, and flat evening. The first, "Counting," looks at first like it might add up, using numbers to underscore the characters’ emotions, particularly their loneliness (the piece deals with Wanda, on her way out of jail, and Gianna, on her way in). Wanda storms around the holding cell, her toughness and been-there-done-that attitude – a real veteran of the slammer – terrifying the timid Gianna, who only opens up once Wanda tells her about the counting games she played to pass the time in jail. A friendship buds, and both scared women come out a little stronger, able to plug on.
However, it's hard to follow this, due to Maria Gabriele’s often incomprehensible portrayal of Wanda (strange, since she wrote the play). Sometimes hurling out words in a thuggish dialect and sometimes swaying wistfully like a withered beauty queen, Gabriele's doing too much: a half-hearted try at an accent, lines delivered at maniacal speed, and weird, rap-like speech patterns. Wanda’s suburban mall attire and obsession with Gucci pumps aim to establish her as materialistic with a taste for glamour, but these features aren’t enough to make sense of the more bizarre characteristics bestowed on her in Gabriele’s performance. We understand that Gianna is supposed to fear Wanda’s aggressiveness, but in this case it would make more sense if Gianna simply raised her eyebrows at the histrionic loony sharing her cell. Still, with the exception of a few lapses in logic (one random numbers game produces a profile of Wanda’s husband…how?), “Counting” has potential, at least for Gabriele-as-playwright.
In “Sparrow,” the second and slightly longer play, two Philippine-born friends meet in their native country, one (Tina) having recently returned from New York City, and the other (Cris) having joined a Maoist guerilla group known as the Sparrows. They spend a few minutes summarizing the circumstances of their rendezvous, touch on school day memories, and part having renewed their bond, but with new danger in their lives. Although it offers something fresh in terms of setting and subject (like the amusing story about the butterfly that flew up the teacher’s skirt and never came out), “Sparrow” never blossoms, hindered by the underdeveloped and unconvincing dialogue and worsened by the play’s reliance on little else to move forward. Tina chatters in vague “I dunno’s”; they might represent her New York indifference, but her claim that if only Cris had followed her to Manhattan, the two of them could easily have had fruitful careers as an artist and a poet, makes me wonder if she spent her New York years on hallucinogens. Cris's stories and slogans could have been taken from a propaganda pamphlet – indicative of her lifestyle perhaps, but when was the last time, looking for a good read, you devoured the Little Red Book? (That's about as far as one's interest in this play goes.)
The very title of the final play, “Last Call on Bourbon Street” primes us for a lack of subtlety, but I doubt anything could fully prepare an audience for the storm of exposition that blows in like Katrina’s winds, washing subtext away with the Lower Ninth Ward. Here, each stock character of New Orleans’s seedy side airs his or her post-storm grievances, which sound lifted from that month’s newspaper headlines, and the whole thing proceeds like a grade school current events project presented as a play. As Topsy the prostitute, Amanda Bruton provides a professional air of energy and precision that comes as a monumental relief amidst the halting delivery of lines and dead air (some praise for the drag queen who tries to seduce the insurance investigator).
More than anything, Coming Home will probably direct your thoughts towards going home. See if you remember these plays once you get there.
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