The Festival of Independent Theaters: Bible Women, Georgie Gets a Facelift, and Thank You Berry Much

Bible Women (repeats July 29, July 31, August 1)

New York playwright and composer Elizabeth Swados wrote Bible Women as a song cycle, but it’s presented here with text by local playwright Vicki Cheatwood. Her chunks of narration and dialogue are much appreciated, because it’s hard to imagine this not-quite-play without her guidance.

As it is, the piece is still dominated by its songs, which incorporate a broad range of styles, from gospel to pop. It deals, rather quickly, with several Old Testament women — Esther, Deborah, Ruth, Sarah, Lilith, Eve, and Miriam — and its purpose as a rallying cry for female empowerment is painfully clear.

Then again, that is Echo Theatre’s mission: to produce plays by, for, and about women. As such, it’s a wonderful showcase of female talent. The cast included Terri Ferguson, Annie Benjamin, and the younger Amy Fisher Hughes. Their voices are all good, but if the entire cast was at the same level as fellow actors Denise Lee and Jodi Wright, the show might have been even more exhilarating.

None of the songs are especially memorable until Lee takes center stage as Sarah, belting “The Angel Said to Me” and “Sarah Talks to God” with spine-tingling gravitas. These two songs are also the most original and gripping, with repeated lines like “Laughing? I was not laughing!” taking on increasing levels of sadness as the song progresses. Lee is a powerful performer, and this production was lucky to have her. Also a standout is Wright, who delivers a knockout with the song “Lilith.”

There isn’t much consistency in the script. The sketches are too brief, and it never adds up to a compelling narrative. (And it’s not a promising sign when a theatrical performance is accompanied by a Power Point behind the action.) Additionally, some histories, like Lilith’s and Sarah’s, were greatly re-interpreted, but Deborah’s and Ruth’s were fairly straightforward. Because of this, the play lacked a unifying tone. Still, the hour goes quickly, and it’s worth seeing for Denise Lee alone.

Georgie Gets a Facelift and Thank You Berry Much (repeats July 30, August 5, August 7)

Dan Guyton’s Georgie Gets a Facelift opens with an image that shouldn’t be as funny as it is: a young man (Joey Folsom), pointing a gun into his own mouth. But thanks to Folsom’s expert delivery and Lisa Anne Haram’s hilarious performance as his all-abiding mother, this darkest-of-dark-comedies had the audience in stitches. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise of the opening moments, but let me say that Stephanie Hall does some of the funniest corpse work I’ve ever seen.

Guyton’s piece is followed by Kurt Kleinmann’s new work Thank You Berry Much, which was clearly written to be a companion to Georgie. It’s a good opportunity for Folsom and Haram to demonstrate their acting range, but an even better opportunity for Hall to steal the show as a Girl Scout with attitude. This second part isn’t as hard-hitting as Georgie, but it served as a commentary on the earlier show. It’s the sign of a good director (Chad Cline) that two consistently shocking scripts end up seeming so lighthearted.

Churchmouse Productions, which is mounting these shows, is an off-shoot of Pegagus Theatre, which has developed its own niche for black-and-white murder mysteries, with which Kleinmann is inextricably associated. He serves as playwright and sound designer here, but his artistic team demonstrates that his theater company can do darker, more provocative work. These two one-acts are the shortest offering at the Festival of Independent Theaters, and they shouldn’t be missed. Try seeing them this Friday, when they’re billed with Alice in Wonderland.

(Main Image: From Bible Women, courtesy of Echo Theatre. Pictured (from left) are Annie Benjamin, Jodi Wright, Terri Ferguson and Denise Lee.)