Little more than hot air connects the quartet of monologues that comprise Norman Lasca’s A Great Place to Be From. As a severe heat wave makes its way across Midwestern America, four individuals share stories both devastatingly honest and comical about Important Moments in their lives; events that led them to a major change or epiphany. However, these four monologues remain fundamentally disconnected thematically, leading one to wonder if Lasca created these vignettes as anything more than a showcase for his diverse work. As it currently stands at the Kraine Theater, where Place kicks of the Babel Theater Project’s new season and runs until September 27 under Geordie Broadwater’s sometimes overly restrained direction, the play still feels like a work-in-progress.
Contrary to his show’s title, Lasca takes his audience to some rather ugly locales in the human psyche. His inaugural monologue, “Stars in the City,” finds Paul (Matthew Johnson) detailing sex with his girlfriend while bemoaning the waning emotional intimacy between them. “Transfusion,” for another example, explores the lengths to which D (Jacques Roy) will go to save an animal. There is also “Phantom Limb,” in which housewife Anne (Kim Martin-Cotten) nurtures a long-simmering fetish.
These emotional crises are rife with dramatic potential, but Lasca undercuts his own work by making it too literal. He should be showing his points onstage, not telling them to his audience. This is more difficult to do in monologue form with just one actor and his or her dialogue on stage, but he can still let some ideas emerge on their own rather than feel compelled to make them all explicit.
His actors are certainly good enough to depend on. Roy delivers a sterling performance as a disaffected hospital orderly who resorts to extreme measures to save the life of his pet dog; he immerses himself completely in Lasca’s arch dialogue and makes every image easy to conjure up. Andrew Zimmerman, too, shines in “Battle of Bunker Hill,” as a disenchanted grocery store employee going off on a tear about his overly patriotic boss. These are two performers who know how to pick up incomplete material and hoist it above their shoulders.
Johnson, on the other hand, cannot do the same thing in “City.” Despite the amount of information Lasca has his character share with the audience, we know very little about Paul and his girlfriend. Whereas Roy and Zimmerman are able to hint at what their experiences with their dog and boss, respectively, mean to them, Johnson’s monologue feels more like recitative. His line readings all follow the same delivery pattern, punctuated with a grunt, and so we never if we can take his lines at face value or need to read between them. I wish Broadwater had done more to flesh out this performance.
Also, “Phantom” feels distinct – and, it should be stated, long – enough to warrant a production of its own rather than being attached to Place on some sort of theatrical rider bill. It feels like a shame to shoehorn this monologue in, since Lasca again has the good fortune to see his work enacted by a real pro. Martin-Cotten is so at ease onstage with just herself and awkward material – involving a kinky use for a leather sling that has escalating emotional effects on its user – that I could have sworn I was watching a real person’s confession. Martin-Cotton uses the slightest gestures and glances to convey a host of conflicting emotions, from arousal to shame to denial.
All the same, the whole of these four monologues add up to less than the sum of their parts. I certainly hope Lasca continues to work through the three monologues that serve as the evening’s first act (at close to an hour-and-a-half, “Phantom” gets the second act to itself). He can certainly delve deeper into the darker aspects of these situations. His places do not have to be neat and tidy to be considered great, but they should be more completely explored.