Sketching It Out

You don't have to have much to put on a show. All you really need is a script plus people to read it, a director to give it a vision, and an audience to watch it all. It helps, of course, if you have talent. Maybe the most important thing to have is heart: if you love what you're doing, it will smooth out any rough edges. TimeSpace Theater Company's presentation of short plays by Christopher Durang, Dessert With Durang, has all of these things. It's performed on a tiny stage at the Payan Theater in the Times Square Arts Center, and there was little room for fancy scenery, extravagant props, or elaborate lights. The basic set pieces—some chairs, a table, a squashy armchair—were reused in various combinations for each sketch. Costume choices were effective yet basic; for example, silky fabric wrapped with a belt became a toga.

This was clearly not a production with a big budget, but the simple design elements never felt like limitations. It was apparent that the entire cast had worked hard. Also, it didn't hurt that the playwright behind the material was talented satirist Christopher Durang.

TimeSpace chose six of his one-act plays. The opening piece, "Medea," was co-written with the late Wendy Wasserstein and dedicated to her memory. This version of the Medea story is a tongue-in-cheek look at the paucity of dramatic roles for women in theater. Full of wacky anachronisms and witty references to other plays, it was a fun choice to start with because of the high-energy performances by Emily Sandack as Medea and Kim Douthit, Cecelia Martin, and Allison Niedermeier as the all-female Greek chorus.

The highlight of the evening was "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls." Durang created a clever adaptation of The Glass Menagerie that is both hysterically funny and faithful to the tiniest details of the original. In this version, the collection of glass animals has been replaced by a collection of glass swizzle sticks, and the troubled daughter Laura is now the troubled son, Lawrence. As Lawrence, Justin Lamb was the perfect combination of sweet innocent and slack-jawed moron. His performance was essential to the piece, and he brought to it the right amount of earnestness and comedy.

Equally flawless was Maureen Van Trease as Amanda, the overbearing mother. She was able to embody Tennessee Williams's flawed Southern belle while also layering in the twisted personality Durang adds to the character. And both Lamb and Van Trease had dead-on Southern accents. Paul Casali (Tom) and Cecelia Martin (Ginny, the "feminine caller") solidly supported the other characters without being overshadowed.

Another sketch, "The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From," again featured Lamb, this time as Joe Hardy, with Richard Rella Jr. as his brother Frank. The two young men had great chemistry together, and each obviously relished his role as a dimwitted, sweater-loving Hardy Boy.

All of the actors gave strong performances, and there were no "weak links," as can sometimes be found in ensemble casts. Michael Raimondi's direction was consistent across all of the sketches, and his interpretation of Durang's occasionally bombastic satire (gun-toting religious enthusiasts, a teenage anti-abortion zealot) was handled with the appropriate amount of irony. The energy level of many of the sketches dwindled at their conclusions, as if the actors felt the playwright's particular gimmick had gone on too long. But I believe this reflects more on the material than on this production.

The only blemish on the evening was that a program of six short plays was maybe too ambitious to be presented without an intermission. While Raimondi cleverly added stage business to the scene changes, there was never a full blackout onstage, and the audience never had any time to rest. With the show running about 90 minutes, a brief intermission could have ensured that everyone was as enthusiastic about the last three sketches as they were with the first three.

TimeSpace is a small and relatively young organization, founded in 2004. It no doubt faces many of the same hurdles that all fledgling companies come up against. But it's clear that the members care about theater and are willing to work hard to put on a good show. Dessert With Durang is ample proof of that.

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