Theater Review: LateNite
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog theater critic Michael Snyder sat through LateNite late last night, and has a few good things to say about it.
The Semesterly LateNite Anthology of student-written one-acts always feels like a handful of works in progress. When the anthology is good, they are refreshing and exciting; when the anthology is bad…let’s just say that can make for a long night. This semester’s LateNite is without a doubt of the former kind.
The opening and closing plays, though totally unrelated in content, act as clever little bookends for the evening. Flat out funny, they both are joyful, quirky, and undemanding, and if the main goal for each is to make the audience laugh, they both succeed admirably. The first of the two, written by Becky Abrams and Josh Breslow is a hysterical monologue about breasts, performed brilliantly by Colin Drummond. The closing play, also by Becky Abrams, seems to be about picking up girls in diners, and the relationship between grandfather and grandson, and tap dancing to Billy Joel. Whatever it’s about, it’s pretty damned funny.
The second play of the evening, “Us, Weakly” by Justin Grace is, apropos of its title, probably the weakest of the six plays, suffering most from the usual downfalls of LateNite plays: a vague opening, idea-heavy dialogue, and extremely stagy speech. Though the play lands several solid jokes, they simply aren’t enough to justify so much moralization.
“Us, Weakly” is followed Michael Molina’s “The Last Great Triumph of Melanie Perkins”, a disarming theatrical exercise that examines death through the eyes of a child. The conceit of the play is interesting—a little girl is visited in her death bed both by her best friend and toy bear Wooly and the surprisingly benevolent Death—and the writing mostly strong. Still, the play never seems to get much of anywhere and many exciting elements go unexplored, particularly in the figures of the parents, who, in an intriguingly loaded directorial choice, double as Wooly and Death. Perkins features three strong performances from Laura Kleinbaum and Colin Drummond as Mother/Wooly and Father/Death respectively, and particularly from Rachel Leopold in the title role.
In terms of sheer ambition, Alex Symonds’ “Quarters” is the standout of the anthology. Though the play fell into some typical LateNite traps—unnecessary allusions, overwrought narrative gimmicks—the creativity and craftsmanship at work here is undeniable. Though Symonds handles her poetic flights nicely, the best moments in “Quarters” tend to be its most straightforward, namely the scenes between Rhea and Dan and their alter-egos Leah and Dave. Morgan Childs and Maura McNamara as Rhea and Leah respectively gave the loveliest, most mature performances of the evening.
Of all the evening’s plays, “Crash Text Dummy”, the text message musical by Laura Kleinbaum and Shruti Kumar, feels the most complete. In ten minutes of witty, just-sardonic-enough music, “Crash Text Dummy” tells the all-too-familiar story of the drunken text messages we send and receive, and does so with exactly the right ratio of snark to sweetness. It’s a tightly written, neatly packaged piece of musical candy, light, fresh, fun, and strangely sweet. More than the evening’s five other playwrights, Kleinbaum and Kumar have a firm grasp on how to fit form to content, picking a topic that needed exactly the ten-minutes time that it filled, nothing more and nothing less.
Overall, this is a strong anthology, entertaining, varied, and refreshing. You won’t see any perfect plays, but you’ll walk out excited about the possibilities each one suggests for future development. And besides, how could you not enjoy a night that concludes with an old man tap-dancing to Billy Joel?
See LateNite tonight at 8 and 11 PM in the Lerner Black Box. Tickets are free.