Saturday, February 24, 2007

Review of "Heart and Souls" published in the News of Delaware County, 2-21-07

Some restaurants cater to those with wildly varying tastes; the bar with 300 beers on the menu, the sampler platter for those who can’t quite settle on what they like most. And sometimes a theater company, instead of picking a play that might satisfy everyone, serves an a la carte menu of their own.

Such is the case with Theatre Exile’s entry into the Philadelphia New Play Festival, an evening titled “Heart and Soles,” with short works centered around the (oft-humorous) failings in relationships. Local playwrights Michael Hollinger, Bruce Graham, and Arden Kass provide the various short and longer “menu items” of the evening, all set in Philadelphia, featuring familiar characters you know, and others that make you wonder where in Philadelphia these playwrights spend their time.

Five items on the menu included:

The dish that looked good but didn’t satisfy: Hollinger’s “Senior Moment,” presents veteran actor Harry Philibosian as a degenerating patient too wise for the scam that his son (Allen Radway) is trying to play on him during a visit at a nursing home. The twist amuses and surprises, but it’s a one-trick pony that took too long to get out of the gate and quickly ran out of steam.

What came out of the kitchen undercooked: Kass’ “Kick Me,” showcasing the eternal battle between a predatory egoist (Julie Czarnecki) and an alleged altruist (Amanda Schoonover) as two best friends turned business partners, now fighting over the same man (Radway). While strangely acted, (and oddly punctuated by monologues and green face paint) this piece is the only one of the evening capable of sustaining its (real) theme into a fuller work.

The entrée you wanted more of: Hollinger’s “Truth Decay,” where a pathological liar (Radway) pretending to be anything but a dentist finds himself on the unlucky end of a rendezvous with a self-help junkie (Schoonover) looking to finally cure her fear of…you guess it, dentists. But it’s the perfect introduction to (nationally-produced) Hollinger’s quirky humor, and hysterically presented as a specimen of physical comedy.

The plate that should have never left the kitchen: Kass’ “Sole Searching,” about a shoe-obsessed lover (Czarnecki) unloading on a hapless cabbie (Philibosian) after she committed an “unspeakable” act against her boyfriend. More told than acted (I would’ve liked to see the intense love for the man played against the intense contempt for his footwear), it provided little tension or drama—though both actors did their best to animate this staged Taxicab Confession.

And then, like a glass of water used to clear your palette after each course, Bruce Graham’s “Full-figured, Loves to Dance.” Broken up into three parts, it’s two skillfully written monologues between South Philly lunk Dave (Pete Pryor) and unhappy BBW Donna (Karen Getz), both looking for love at their local bar. While Dave’s (crude but accurate) lines evoke nothing but laughter (and no sympathy), it’s Getz’s Donna who displays an infectious and disarming charm at the evenings end, letting you go home with a smile and the hope that sometimes relationships aren’t any more complicated than a dance.

While not all the dishes satisfied, I’d recommend this performance to anyone—particularly for the strong, ambitious, and often-hysterical acting by which all of these dishes were served.

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