Variations on Myth

Tis the season again for local playwrights to emerge on the Baltimore stage!  Tonight, I attended “Variations on Myth” at Rapid Lemon Productions.  And in two weeks, I get to see a similar offering at Fells Point Corner Theater with their annual 10x10x10.

For those unfamiliar with the Variations project, each year patrons vote (via money in a jar) on a theme for the following year.  Rapid Lemon has several development workshops/parties and calls for submissions.  The plays showcased this year were to revolve around the theme of myth.  Most hinged on either Greek mythology, or the Wester God of Christianity.  Perhaps a little more diversity would have been good as well.  There were twelve plays showcased through only six actors.  I am going to do my best to walk through all of them, albeit briefly.

The night was off to a bumpy start with “Bolero” by Amy Bernstein.  The entire ensemble tried to define myth or origin via books, musings, and even asking Alexa.  They tore pages from books (heathens) and pasted them on a wall in the back where they remained throughout the evening.  There wasn’t much of a conclusion reached, and Bolero is a tie, or a jacket, or an orchestral piece.  My best assumption was orchestra, since the ensemble all participated.

“Gorgonia” by Alexis M Skinner was second.  It began with an adorable vignette of female heroes and had my attention.  I don’t know if the playwright, the director, or the projectionist (Bruce Kaplan) compiled it but it was lovely.  Then three Greek sisters (the Gorgons) entered and bickered until Medusa showed up too.  Rachel Reckling as Medusa was hysterical in this one.  Some of the lines got lost with the other two actors, Christine Demuth and Crystal Sewell, in an effort to keep the pace brisk.

Third as the incomparable Valerie Lewis, who wins the standout actress award for this evening.  (Un)Veiled by Crystal Sewell was a bit meta, and bit hard to follow. It was a bit Handmaid’s Tale at first thanks to the Flying Nun hat.  In each vignette, Lewis acts as in instructor in various forms of nun habits, then bows to do a confession, then a scratchy tape comes on of overlaying messages, the most distinct is a quote by a different pope each time.  We never hear what her sins are, and she keeps stripping. My best analysis is something about stripping away the lies and layers to uncover the myth of Catholicism.  Which is a bit bold and possibly upsetting to some, but not the most disturbing of the evening.

“The Hounds of Actaeon” by Casey Jacobs was fourth and featured shadow silhouettes while Rachel Reckling told the classic tale to start.  Then the dogs came to life as three puppies in costume with a Centaur telling them their punishment (thus deeming them the common household dog).  The centaur was cleverly handled with shadows.  The thing about this was the rhyme.  It seemed a bit forced in places, and wee disjointed.

“Savior” by Sharon Goldner was exactly that.  Valerie Lewis (see award above) and Rachel Reckling are yoga moms discussing the possibility that Reckling’s son “Jimmy” was the messiah.  This was cute, funny, poignant, and well played.  Kudos are in order to playwright, actresses, and director T.P.Huth for this one.  In the twelve offerings of the night, this earns the silver medal.

The gold medal of the evening goes to the last production before intermission, “Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels” by Katie Hileman.  Brilliantly performed as two women in yoga class, the perfect woman with an ego to match, and a more work in progress woman with contrasting monologues.  In the end they tempt one another in a hysterically sexually charged scene with pizza.  I laughed out loud for this one.  My friend and I snickered about it for hours after, over beers, and on our drive home.  WELL DONE!

Post a brief intermission, we are back for the final plays.  Act II began with “Throwing Stuff at a God” by Emile Feldenzer.  The premise was that kids were in detention for “throwing stuff” and the Paul Blart Mall Cop figure as the detention-giving power-hungry administrator was quite amusing.  But the entire monologue about one of the children obsessed with trees, kind of made it wobble off kilter.

Two teens were next stranded in the woods on a Girl Scout camping trip, in “You Lovely Insatiable Thing” by Jen Diamond.  This one had potential.  The girls were scared, naïve, vulnerable, catty, all the things that encompass our belief of teenage culture.  Two plays tonight though seem to mention menstruation, and I feel little bit like maybe people don’t realize that teenage girls do not sit around and talk about this.

“Match” by Tom Piccin was next, and is another play with real potential.  It had some genuine laugh out loud moments.  The spit take by Noah Silas was fantastic.  And the idea of couples counseling as a pre-first-date is comical. The jeopardy game was weird and a little derailed, but the confessions after were comical again.  This was a bit uneven, but had some of my real belly laughs of the night.  And isn’t that what a playwright festival like this is for?  To find untapped talent and allow authors to start the process of producing?  I say yes, and to Piccin, don’t quit.  This is good stuff.  Keep honing.

“Flesh or Stone” was next by Christine Demuth. I am going to just summarize then add more commentary than needed.  The play is about two girls discussing the myth of Persephone via artwork.  They appear to be art students, or just art lovers, but they reference some classical pieces.  It becomes painfully obvious that one is trying to justify her own life via the choices of Greek myths and art.  And the other offers unwavering support.  Here is the problem with this play- within in the first minute, a female character is trying to justify rape.  Read that again.  I get it. I am not oblivious- she is trying to find her self worth after inferring that perhaps something like that has occurred to her without coming out and saying it.  But this isn’t cool.  And the Warning in the “Content Advisory Policy” in the program says basically they don’t issue advisory warnings.  So, why type it?  And it goes on to state that “If you have any concerns about content, triggers, or stage effects that might negatively affect patron content, please let staff know before the show.”  If these are new plays, and I have no idea what I am about to see, how can I possibly warn you of triggers?  I am not easily offended or triggered, but I had to fight to keep listening, I was so upset by this disregard and crazy effort to explain away rape that I honestly wanted to leave.  I have NEVER walked out of a show for content. I considered it tonight and that was extremely disquieting.

Tyrone Chapman & Archie Williams give us a very short (blink and you will miss it) comical take on creating our next world leader.  Two lab coated deities are devising our next American President- hint- a bag of Cheetos might have fallen in!  Whoops!

And finally “Mind of God” brought up the end.  I felt so bad for this play and author Jack L.B. Gohn.  Again, it had potential, but the actress playing God was blanking on all of her lines.  And it was horrible watching her struggle.  I felt so bad for her, we’ve all been on stage and drawn that giant blank and gone into sheer panic mode.  Girl, get some sleep, shake it off, and the show must go on.

All in all, a night of interesting material. I would like to see more variety in topic matter. I know there is a theme, but myth could go so far beyond Greeks and God.  Variations is always a playwright festival I look forward to, I just think there’s been years where the plays are a little tighter and edited than the offerings this year.  Some of these are great rough drafts.  The key is to remember that, they are rough drafts, not polished pieces.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  It was a nice night.  And my friend and I had fun making them into a bracket style competition over beer afterwards (Red Emma’s re-opened- with a bar- right next door!).  But some were better than others, and some were a bit problematic.  A solid offering of local harvested authors.  Leave them in the sun a bit more, they will all ripen, I am sure of it. (I)

Running time a little over two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.

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