Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Recent Backstage Review

Four Women & a Waitress
June 13, 2008
By Christopher Murray
Each of the brief one-acts on this double bill features a pair of women engaged in conflict -- two sisters in Edward Allan Baker's Rosemary With Ginger and two actors in Strindberg's The Stronger, translated by Carl Mueller -- expressed in coarse argument in the former and subtle observation in the latter.

In Rosemary With Ginger, the eponymous sisters come together upon the closing of Rhode Island's Peter Pan Diner in 1993. Among the worn chairs, dirty walls, and half-filled coffee cups, they attempt to fill out an entry for a mother-of-the-month contest to honor their long-suffering mom but quickly fall into recrimination about the way their lives have turned out.

Pamela Shaw, with big hair and blue sunglasses and cracking both gum and wise, portrays the alcoholic Rosemary as struggling to maintain a sense of umbrage at most likely losing custody of her children. Aria Alpert as Ginger maintains a tense smile in the face of her sister's foulmouthed jeremiads even as her own marriage has hit the rocks. The play, directed by actor Karl Bury, is a little clunky, following standardized dramatic clichés, but the actors reveal the bonds of survivorhood that temper the sister's obvious distaste for one another.

In Strindberg's jewel of a monologue, Frau X (the frisky and intelligent Francesca Faridany) comes upon her old acting and romantic rival, Mlle. Y (noted Swiss actor and director Marthe Keller) in a café on Christmas Eve. While Frau X talks and talks, working her way through nostalgia, accusation, and finally self-satisfied admiration for her friend, Mlle. Y sits silently, nibbling on almonds and reacting only in gesture and glance.

The piece, directed by opera director Stephen Wadsworth, is a cheeky bit of theatrical effect in its deliberate unbalance, but it works, because both actors are so tuned into one another's communication of emotion and tension, expressed in endless anecdote or the meaningful silence of a cat. Keller's beatific smile and worried eyes say volumes, while Faridany's sense of comedy and pathos is evident from her entrance, when she first spies her friend and her eyes light up and the torrent of words gushes forth.

Presented by Maggie Maes and Kimberly Vaughn
at the ArcLight Theatre, 152 W. 71st St., NYC.
June 11-22. Tue.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 5 p.m.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.

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