Theater Reviews: Which Productions Should You See at the Festival of Independent Theaters?

Looking to catch a performance at the Festival of Independent Theaters? Here is our guide and all the reviews.

WingSpan Theatre Company: A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot / The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year

Repeats: Thursday, July 28 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 30 at 5 p.m.; and Saturday, August 6 at 2 p.m.

Pictured (l. to r.): Nancy Sherrard and Cindee Mayfield Dobbs

One of the greatest things about well-crafted short plays is that they can be tiny, exciting snapshots of life. Wingspan Theatre Company shoots with both barrels in its double bill of Tennessee Williams’ A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot and John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year at the Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Susan Sargeant directs the finely paired duo of plays with a madcap fervor that brings about their well-stocked highlights. A Perfect Analysis gives us a glimpse of two waning Southern Belles who find themselves separated from their convention group and end up in a dive bar. The girls about town – Bessie (a fulsome and fantastic Nancy Sherrard) and Flora (Cindee Mayfield Dobbs doing her best Dixie debutante) – resemble feisty inhabitants of Designing Women, especially as they begin sniping and nitpicking at each other with the precision of well-practiced socialites. It’s a tad more genteel than The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but just as juicy.

The action in The Loveliest Afternoon skews toward the peculiarin its depiction of two fledgling lovers who meet in a park and continue their wooing, but only on Sundays. She (a fresh and spunky Cara Reid) is young, pretty Ohio girl feeling the keen sting of loneliness in a new city. He (a Thom Pain mixed with Clark Kent Ben Bryant) is prone to spinning funny, “true” stories that relate to almost everything. This anything but predictable little love ditty caps off Wingspan’s satisfying twin features with charming spirit.

Upstart Productions: W.A.S.P.

Repeats: Thursday, July 28 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, August 6 at 8 p.m.

Every now and then, the universe is truly unfair with its allotments of talents to just one individual. It’s not enough that world famous comedian Steve Martin is already an actor, banjoist, lecturer, novelist, memoirist, screenwriter, and art historian, but he’s also a pretty darn good playwright too. Upstart Productions adds to Mr. Martin’s artistic oeuvre with its perfect portrait of twisted domesticity in WASP.

Director Josh Glover plays up the absurd in this wry skewering of 1950s ultra-Christian (hence the title) family life in the burbs, and allows his actors to transcend their roles, which could have just as easily settled into caricatures. There isn’t much plot to follow (even for a one-act), just wacky interludes like at dinner where we learn that Heaven is exactly “seventeen miles above the earth,” and a re-imagining of a Christmas morning as upper crust Brits complete with a butler (a workmanlike John M. Flores in three different roles).

The play is supposed to be big and inane to play up the hollow ludicrousness of that particular American dream, and the cast buys into their roles like gangbusters. Ted Wold as the Dad is a stalwart Creationist with all the “facts.” Sis and Son (Nicole Stewart and Christopher Eastland) slay as strange siblings. Diane Casey Box’s Mom shows the strain of maintaining the perfect suburban matriarch façade. Her mad smile is her armor as she stops down to converse with her Voice (Elizabeth Van Winkle) for life advice. It’s a bit of an over the top portrayal, yet it works in this petite, biting play.

Second Thought Theater: Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self

Repeats: Friday, July 29 at 8 p.m. and Thursday, August 4 at 8 p.m.

Pictured (l. to r.) playwright Eric Steele, director Lee Trull and perforrmer Barry Nash.

Speakers at conventions, motivational or not, can be dead boring. However, with the right material, and especially the right speaker/actor and director, they can transport an audience beyond the ordinary confines of a small theater. Second Thought Theatre caps off their brilliant season with yet another pearl in Eric Steele’s Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self at the Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Steele, a Dallas based writer, actor, and filmmaker, has composed a short play that starts out purposefully slow, if a bit folksy and trite, but builds to a sobering gut punch of a conclusion. Director Lee Trull (fresh off of his directorial debut with STT’s grand Dying City) selects a seamless rhythm and pace to highlight Barry Nash in this one-man show.

The titular Mr. Birdnow (Nash) is a family man, leader in the community, a motivational speaker, and a pilot. He enters the stage with a pronounced limp and missing an arm, but we do not find out how he became injured until the second half of the show when he gets to the business of sharing the life-altering tale of his devastating plane crash.

Nash’s performance is a thing of effortless beauty that mesmerizes and lulls into a false sense of complacency before carrying us to a triumphant, eye-opening, redemptive finish. It’s the singular performance of the festival, if not the year.

Churchmouse Productions: Squirrels

Repeats: Friday, July 29 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 30 at 2 p.m.; Sunday, July 31 at 5 p.m.; and Saturday, August 6 at 5 p.m.

Mamet is so Mamet, man. His plays do that typical Mamet thing with the rapid-fire, clever, circuitous, and often hilariously vulgar language where the men (and sometimes women) try to escape from their trapped circumstances thing. Churchmouse Productions does its best Mamet impersonation with David Mamet’s Squirrels at the Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Chad Cline directs this claustrophobic, absurdist think piece on the process of writing with a light and skillful hand, letting the actors and their script work their enchantments.

Arthur and Edmond (Ben Schroth and Jim Kuenzer) are two writers pursuing the perfect story. However, they find themselves bogged down in existential minutiae, and Arthur’s inexplicable obsession with the eponymous bushy-tailed rodents.

A salty cleaning lady (Mollie Milligan) crashes their pen fest here and there to offer up her own web of words, a beer, a lay, and just “cleaning shit and being lovable.”

Schroth as Arthur (sounds like “author,” get it?) rants with clipped precision and kills with such lines as “a man enters the park with no intention of strangling a squirrel.” Kuenzer’s Edmond is the eager to please, yet quick and talented new guy. He puts up with his squirrely writing partner with a myriad of interesting nuances. Milligan as the Cleaning Lady infuses even more comic relief in a play that is already wallowing in it. Notable Kudos to Samantha Rodriguez’s costume design that includes some natty sweaters (one with squirrel-themed embroidery), ties, and believable cleaning attire.

One-Thirty Productions: The Madness of Lady Bright

Repeats: Saturday, July 30 at 5 p.m.; Sunday, July 31 at 2 p.m.; and Saturday, August 6 at 8 p.m.

“I’m old, fat, insane, senile, and old” moans the lead queen in One Thirty Productions’ poignant production of Lanford Wilson’s The Madness of Lady Bright.

Wilson’s play about a long in the tooth drag queen (Larry Randolph) is considered the seminal work of gay theater, and a pioneer in the Off-Off Broadway world. Director Morgana Shaw sets a riffing, yet diverse pace, and brings about incredible performances from her actors, especially the titular Lady Bright.

The action is confined to a “spare room” in Bright’s apartment that more resembles a performer’s dressing room, as she prepares her costume and makeup (Marty Van Kleeck and Ryan Mathieu Smith) for her onstage persona. A girl (area festival darling Cassie Bann) and boy (Justin Locklear lately of Ochre House’s The Butcher) flank Bright and act as voices/helpers/embodied memories.

Randolph as the grumpy and delightfully snide queen rails and reminisces with a mad whimper to a growl at what her world has become. All her friends are either unavailable and/or untrustworthy and her deteriorating body is “built like a disaster.”

Stellar acting performances can take over one-act plays where short plots prevail, and Randolph’s iconic portrayal here bears that trend out magnificently. Final note: One Thirty Productions makes its living by producing light comedies, and “old fashioned,” non-offensive fare for the afternoon crowd, but you wouldn’t know it by this acerbic and edgy piece of art. Bravo to them for branching out.

Rite of Passage Theatre Co.: Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef

Repeats: Saturday, July 30 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 31 at 2 p.m.; Thursday, August 4 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, August 6 at 2 p.m.

Rite of Passage Theatre Company cooks up a delectable amuse-bouche of a show in Robert Askins’Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef at Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center.

The festival marks the world premiere of this hilarious mélange of love, music, cooking, and singing oysters. Cassie Bann and Clay Wheeler direct and produce with a flair for fun, and guffaw inducing surprises.

Sous chef Eddie (Adrian Churchill), he of the title, has it bad for the beautiful Bulgarian waitress, Billy (Whitney Holotik). However, much to his dismay she does not return his ardor. Feeling he is aesthetically unworthy of her affections, he creates a seven course love letter of food to woo her. Eddie is so inspired by his muse that his creations begin to literally sing and speak to Billy as she enjoys the meal of her life.

Churchill as the magic chef is a lovable bear of a man with a soulful, attractive sadness and a spot-on Albanian accent (not an easy thing to do). Holotik’s waitress nails the detached, jaded demeanor of a server who has seen it all. Chris Ramirez as the horn dog, alcoholic busboy, and one of the singing oysters supplies one of most hilarious performances of the festival. He leers, sings, and dances with full-throttle comic gusto.

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