Talia Luening and Aaron Duclos
Talia Luening and Aaron Duclos find being honeymooners stressful. Photos by Ralph Stewart

High five for ITW

By CK Wolfson - March 15, 2006

Community theater: Audience members nod recognition to each other as they settle into their seats; the atmosphere, personal; the cast, neighbors; and the productions, often sparse and straightforward.

But by virtue of tightly crafted direction, flawless casting and a mix of entertaining material, Island Theatre Workshop's (ITW) two evening production of five, one-act plays elevates the conventional standards of amateur theater, and rewards the audience with an affecting theatrical experience.

Evening One presents three farces: a somewhat dated, "Here We Are," by Dorothy Parker, "Pass the Horseradish," a contemporary matchup by Susan Shafer, and "The Boor," a 1897 Russia-style romance by Anton Chekov. In completely different styles each deals with the awkwardness of new relationships, of people learning to connect and communicate. And the process is fun to watch.

"Here We Are," directed by ITW's artistic director Lee Fierro, is set on a train in 1931. Aaron Duclos and Talia Luening play self-conscious newlyweds. "Well, here we are," they each repeat nervously. She babbles on, baiting and misconstruing almost everything her amorous new husband says. "This is no way to start a honeymoon," he wails, "with all this thinking going on."

Sabrina Luening
With melodrama flare, Sabrina Luening portrays a Russian widow with debts to pay.

As the anxious husband, Aaron Ducloss (The Crow in Vineyard Playhouse's "The Snow Queen) convincingly portrays a menu of different emotions, while Talia Luening (an alumna of Children's Theatre and Apprentice Players), as his wife, captures the mix of confusion and nervousness as she sets the tempo and pacing.

Award-winning playwright Susan Shafer ("Sadie and Ida") creates an easily relatable encounter between two emergency room patients waiting for attention in "Pass the Horseradish." Despite the distraction of the hospital sound effects, Terrie MacLaren is perfect as as the young headache stricken Rebecca, talking across the curtain that separates her from Leslie J. Stark (the show’s director) as the elderly hypochondriac, Sidney. "It's not your heart," Rebecca declares. "You’re what's wrong with you."

After comparing ailments, commiserating and analyzing each other, they come to a generous and tender understanding. Ms. Cohen, a newcomer to Island theater, and Mr. Stark, with his long list of theater credentials, make a delightful couple to watch.

In "The Boor," directed by Ms. Fierro, Island favorites Sabrina Luening, as the imperious widow, Mme. Popov, verbally fences with Gerry Yukevich as the pompous and insistent Smirnov, who comes to collect on a debt and winds up stealing a heart. Mike Gilman as the servant Luka adds just the right touch, but it is Ms. Luening who commands the stage.

There is no decipherable thread connecting the offerings in the two Evening Two productions. The first offering, directed by Kevin Ryan, is Jeffrey Sweet's "The Value of Names." It is a funny, often biting examination of the complicated aftermath of Black Listing by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Benny (Leslie Stark), who went on to fame as the star of the television series, "Rich but Happy," was testified against by his friend Leo (Jay Sigler) - something he never spoke of to his actress daughter, Norma (Jenny Driesen). But everything reaches its denouement on Benny's patio in the Malibu Hills when decisions have to be made and the past reconciled.

Add to that Norma's decision to change her last name to her mother's maiden name, in order not to be known as her famous father's daughter.

What makes the dialogue so interesting is that different points of view are presented with equal fervor. Politics and art: Benny won't work with people whose political views offend him, yet he was once kept from working because of his political views.

Mr. Stark is masterful in his portrayal of Benny; and Ms. Driesen, in her first ITW production, easily holds her own in a complex part. As Leo, the director of the play Norma's rehearsing, Jay Sigler (also new to ITW) gracefully makes his character sympathetic.

The production concludes with "Medea," by Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, directed by Linda Berg. It is a parody, a romp, complete with a wonderful straight-faced, high drama Greek chorus (Laura Gliga, Martha Hudson, Gayle Stiller). Mix pop culture with Greek tragedy, throw in a chorus of "Camp Town Races," and it's fun from the minute it begins to the curtain call end.

Just to watch Shelley Brown as Medea is well worth venturing out on a chilly night. She deftly captures every comedic nuance, and along with Kevin Ryan as Jason, makes every moment sparkle. Katie Clarke as Messenger, and Xavier Powers as Deus ex Machina complete the cast with style.

One Act Plays, "Here We Are," "Pass the Horseradish," and "The Boor," March 16, at 7:30 pm and March 17, at 3 pm. "The Value of Names," and "Medea," March 17, at 7:30 pm, and March 18, at 3 pm. Tickets are $15 for one night or $25 for two nights. For more information, call 508-627-3166.