Theater : ITW one-acts open at Katharine Cornell
Thursday night. The rehearsal has already begun. The cast of Island Theatre Workshop's (ITW) production of Gilbert and Sullivan's one-act comic opera, "Trial by Jury" - all familiar Island faces - listen as director Lee Fierro, ITW artistic director, explains who should move where. Musical director Linda Berg, who's sitting at an upright piano, pauses to conduct with both arms, and - in an effort to push good all the way to perfect - calls out, "You're almost there," and "Pretty good guys," and then jubilantly, "Good, I understood every word."
There's an energetic but focused commotion taking place in ITW's new home. Newly dubbed Academy Hall, the old West Tisbury Library built in 1870 by Hariph Smith on Music Street (originally the Dukes County Academy) offers a gleaming open floor plan with pristine white walls, long elegant windows, and polished wooden floor.
With nothing to absorb sound, voices are amplified, and when Kevin Ryan begins singing, when the chorus joins in, when Binnie Rabitz steals the moment, and Martha Hudson gives personality to her role, their talent blows your hair back and takes your breath away.
Fasten your seatbelts. ITW's three One Act Plays Festival opens this weekend with a surprising variety of plays and an extravagant display of your neighbor's talents.
"Trial by Jury," written in 1895, musically tells the comic story of a suitor, the Defendant, who jilts his perspective bride Angelina, the Plaintiff, in favor of another. It's a case of breach of promise that the jury will decide. Except that the flirtatious judge was himself guilty of the same deed. When Angelina, complete with bridal bouquet and veil comes into the courtroom preceded by a procession of bridesmaids, the judge takes a liking to her. It is a wonderful romp, impressively acted and sung, that should not be missed.
In striking contrast to the frivolity of Gilbert and Sullivan, Leslie J. Stark and Jessica Buckley, veterans of ITW productions, appear this weekend only, in the two-character contemporary comedy, "The Man Who Couldn't Stop Crying," written in 1997 by Murray Schisgal (co-writer of "Tootsie" with Larry Gelbart). The play runs for three performances.
Set in Manhattan, it centers on a long-married, affluent Jewish couple, Benjamin and Judith, who are having breakfast on a Sunday morning. All's right in their Upper West Side world.
Only one problem: Benjamin can't stop crying. Everything makes him sob - stranger's obituaries, Jerry Lewis, old photos - everything. Judith tries to make helpful suggestions - maybe he should see a shrink - but to no avail. It's an extended comedy routine with clever comebacks and smart quips, but there is something poignant lurking underneath - maybe for the road not taken.
This is the fourth year Mr. Stark has both acted and directed work in the One Act Festival. (He and Ms. Buckley appeared together in "Extensions.") Mr. Stark explains that this play, like most all of playwright Schisgal's work, contain dynamic tension, humor, and very believable characters in exaggerated circumstances.
"But the plays are not resolved," Mr. Stark says. "There's only a middle, no beginning, no resolution. The audience will agree I think, that you don't know if this man is ever relieved of his psychological propensity for crying. We just don't know."
He says, "My job as the director is to better understand why Benjamin can't stop crying. I can't just play it for the easy laughs.
"Shasta Rue," a 1983 play by Jane Martin, opens next weekend for two performances: Saturday, March 20, at 7:30, and Sunday at 3 pm. (It will run in place of "The Man Who Couldn't Stop Crying.")
The show brings Randi Vega back to the Island to direct and perform. Ms. Vega, a veteran of Island theater, lived here for 17 years and served as executive director of Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. She is now the director of cultural affairs for the city of Baltimore, Md., where she moved in the fall of 1999.
"Shasta Rue," a one-person, one-act comedy monologue, is the in-your-face tale of Shasta Rue and her mother, a middle-aged black woman who decides her daughter should enter the Miss Prettybelle Kentucky Pageant. And here's mama, complete with a gold tiara, and sash that reads, ''Miss Prettybelle Kentucky'' telling how she and the other inhabitants of Sarcey's Palace, a house of ill repute, crashed the beauty pageant, and laid claim to the title. With this hilarious anecdote, the playwright demolishes the American obsession with beauty contests, telling us how mama and her daughter, Shasta Rue, invaded the Prettybelle contest and claimed the title.
As Mr. Stark points out: "Island Theatre Workshop, unlike the Playhouse, is the quintessential community theater...It uses people who are not professional, and draws on the community. But what's extraordinary is that some of these people with very little training turn out incredible performances. Then they go back to being bank tellers, teachers, cashiers, or bankers. I love that we have a real community theater. It's amazing how good it is."
ITW One Act Play Festival, Friday, March 12, (a benefit for Hospice of Martha's Vineyard) through Saturday, March 20, 7:30 pm; , matinees on Sundays, March 14 and March 21, 3 pm.(time TBA for the March 13 show). Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven.