Friday, August 24, 2007

PLAY: "Long Distance"

Photo/Chris Montgomery

Welcome to the world of Judy Budnitz, where the growth shown in a mammogram looks like the streaks in salad dressing, or where the sunset's light is akin to what we see inside our eyelids after rubbing them. Budnitz's style captures the alien nature within us, and Ateh Theater Group, which has made a habit of adapting untraditional stories, has put together a straightforward production of three shorts: Long Distance.

The first and third plays nail the disturbingly normal style the best; both are done by Bridgette Dunlap, who is as funny, direct, and efficient in her direction and she is in her adaptation. In "Visitors," spurts of sudden darkness show the leaps in time as a mother calls her daughter with ever more distressing news about a road trip gone horribly wrong. The crisp breaks allow us to live scene-for-scene, balancing Mom's (Sara Montgomery) unreasonable calm with Meredith's (Elizabeth Neptune) understandable distress. The staging is clever too; though the mother stands just feet behind Meredith, the distance between them feels pronounced, something only enhanced by the clever trick of having the mom go limp whenever Meredith's not on the phone.

In "Skin Care," Neptune revisits the hyper-nerved in her portrayal of Amy, who can only beg her leprous sister to come home from school, lacking the will to do anything more. But, doubling as the narrator, Neptune has the opportunity to illustrate the nuance between cool resolve and sterile distance and this piece, more than any of the others, captures the ways in which distance manifests itself. Montgomery, who plays the sister, is the star of Long Distance, as serious when she asks the doctor to make love with her (because he knows how to protect himself) as she was dotty in the earlier play.

At the center of the 75-minute collection is "Flush," in which Lisa (Madeleine Maby) can only watch as cancer grows, "like oatmeal," in a loved one's breast. "Flush" is the most realistic of the stories, and Alexis Grausz directs it well, but the scenes wind up playing better in Lisa's narrative monologues than in what often seem to be extraneous, illustrative scenes. But even here, the phone conversations between sisters, mothers, and daughters show a gulfing desperation to hold the whole world at once, regardless of the frightening, alien things that creep, crawl, or literally go "bump" in the night.

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