Life is Short by Craig Pospisil. Directed by Kevin Wixsom
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Who thought up leg-of-mutton sleeves?"
In eight short playlets, or sketches, playwright Craig Pospisil attempts to show us a cross-section of American relationships. Children at school, teens at parties, young brides, entire families on a rampage, the elderly considering a different way of life, all of these types are visible on stage upstairs at Jaeís Spice in Pittsfield, MA as The Town Players brings a large company of actors to interpret Pospisilís views of humanity.
Pospisil is the Director of Non-Professional Rights at Dramatists Play Service, Inc., the organization that publishes and licenses performances of his plays. He has made a specialty of the one-act comedy and in this composite evening presents a group of them intended to amuse and enlighten his audiences. With eight tries, he succeeds some of the time.
The show begins with John DeBaggis and Roma Sabino as six-year-olds on their first day of first grade. Both actors deliver their children on stage superbly, but as Sabino takes over the scene it becomes apparent that the show to follow may well focus on the superiority of women over men. Oddly, that is true in about five of the eight plays. This one, "Class Conflict," takes us to a place that is only referred to in a later play.
"On The Edge," which follows, provides a teen suicide plot that takes a predictable turn at the end. Tia Marie MacQuesten plays an irritating teenager incredibly well and her decisions along the way in handling Alex Martinezís depressed boy-in-love are played to perfection. Both actors in this piece fall into their characters with apparent ease and the play, though predictable as noted, is a compelling piece of theater, one of the best in the eveningís group.
Monica Bliss and Dana Grieb do a fine job in their play, "Whatever," which comes next. Again the outcome is foreseeable and not surprising. The audience on Saturday night did gasp and laugh at the final transition, but not because the writing lulled them into other conclusions. It was due to the playing of those final moments by Grieb and Bliss.
The play that ends the first half is "Double Wedding." A clever idea nicely pursued by Sara Clement and Nicole B. Garzino it could have profited by less parental interference, as played by Laura Gardner and Tom Gardner. The human conflict here is between the two brides as they grasp at straws and come to grips with their all-too serious emotions.
The plays in the second half of the evening are slightly more interesting and, I think, better written with the exception of the third piece, "The American Dream Revisited," a play that ought to be buried along with its victims. Itís absurdist credentials are stifled by poor writing.
"Infant Morality," on the other hand, provides an excellent opportunity for four actors to deal with a situation comedy that is borderline tragedy from beginning to end. Gayle Schechtman does all right, but she could certainly take her character further and make her final moments less ho-hum. Once again, the audience gasped and laughed, but they could do, and feel, so much more if the actress would let loose a bit.
In "A Motherís Love," Diedre Devere Bollinger presents a varied and extremely dangerous mother whose emotional ups and downs are compelling to watch and when the authorís joke happens it comes as a bit of a shock. Bollinger plays extremes in such a fine manner that her repetition of hated and reviled words and concepts are repeated in exactly the same tone and look. She is very much in control of her character and her performance and is definitely worth the price of admission here. This is Pospisilís best piece in this collection.
The show ends with "The Last December," a play whose title tips the scales a bit. It is almost clear from the outset who and what we are dealing with in this piece. John Trainor as Man and Karel Fischer as Woman are wonderful. She, once again, is in charge of the play, keeping it moving forward and understanding the ending before we get to the beginning. It has a visual ending that makes its slight length inevitable.
Kevin Wixsom has directed his non-professional company well in this production and he has the good fortune to be working with a company of actors who seem capable of making this piece work. The biggest problem is that the playwright has not given the director true endings to his plays. In most cases they just - stop! - without providing the players and director a good line on which to conclude the incident being showcased.
Not the best evening of theater Iíve ever seen this company deliver, it is still amusing and provides some insights into the condition of human relationships through the various stages of growth and aging. Perhaps the best way to see it is with the dinner and theater combination. It is almost two hours of performance and that always makes me hungry for something more.
Sara Clement & Nicole B. Garzino; photo: Monica Bliss
Diedre Devere Bollinger in "A Mother's Love"; photo Sara Clement
Gayle Schechtman, Deirdre Sullivan, Christopher Peterson, Monia Bliss; photo: Sara Clement
Life is Short, a Town Players Production, runs at Jaeís Spice through March 21. For tickets and availability call 413-443-9279.