Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thicker Than Water 2008

I see a lot of one-act festivals as part of my work with New Theater Corps -- I find that they're a great way to catch up-and-coming artists, to see boundaries being pushed in experimental short pieces, or simply to showcase artistic and directorial talents. So I'm disappointed with the output of the under-35 Youngblood group, which, if Thicker Than Water 2008 is any indication, is happier treading water, getting their feet wet, and playing in the kiddie pool, than diving into anything serious (or funny). At best, the seven plays here put the cute in dysfuncutetion (as with Amy Herzog's 508); at worst, they sing -- badly (Delaney Britt Brewer's hippie folk musical about familial reconciliation It'll Soon Be Here).

The two exceptions are Courtney Brooke Lauria and Matt Schatz's musical, Co-Op, which is at quirky enough musically to get away with a stale tale of shy strangers, and Justin Deabler's excellent Red, Blue, and Purple, which dares the audience to watch as Dylan (Miguel Govea) meets for an uncomfortably revealing coffee with his former best friend, Nina (Kelli Lynn Harrison), whose shaky mental condition and conversion to religion -- "I Heard God speaking to me at the hot buffet -- are all just a bit too much for him, especially when she tries to help him switch back to heterosexuality.

The directing is efficiently done, but that's the last thing you want to hear in a review focusing on new one-act plays. It's also not enough, as the actors so often fall back on overemoting when they run out of things to actually say. Michael Sendrow's For Candy: A Dead Letter Written has an interesting concept -- a son gets a long-lost (and forgotten) letter from his now-dead mother -- but the suspense is literally throttled to death by the father's (Grant Shaud) patented Looks of Portent. Daria Polatin's La Fete (The Holiday) is full of caustic snaps from a teenage daughter dragged along on her mother and stepfather's honeymoon, only to settle for a hastily resolved happy ending. And while I'd love to say that Thicker Than Water simply suffers from not having enough time, Emily Chadick Weiss's Both wastes the entire 50-minute second act cracking similarly embarrassing jokes until they're neither embarrassing nor funny.

I've seen great stuff from Youngblood artists before, so maybe this is just their way of getting it out of their system, pissing, if you will, into a wide ocean of thick, middling water. But hey, would it be too much to ask for some waves?

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