Monday, January 21, 2013

The Hardest Part Is Letting Go

Whether someone severs a relationship, moves to another city, or dies, the hardest part of dealing with the breakup is often letting go. It's one thing to admit to yourself that the person was never really yours to love (or, if you're Celine Dion, believing that the memory of your love will live on and on and on).  What quickly vanishes is the day-to-day camaraderie, the teasing, the give and take in your relationship.  Even the anger and bitterness start to fade.

If you've got an fertile imagination, friends who have moved on to another plane may visit you in your dreams. Those who are still alive (but no longer play an active role in your life) may occasionally phone or send you an email as a way of touching base.

The bottom line is that most of us lead busy lives. When someone disappears from our daily routine, their place is eventually filled with another person's laughter, tenderness, and need for attention.

Two new dramas written by extremely perceptive women focus on the stress and strain of letting go when a relationship is no longer sustainable. One involves the living, the other involves the dead. Although each rests on a foundation of determined quirkiness, the emotional honesty at the core of each effort is what anchors their dramatic success.

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As one watches Best If Used By (which will be shown at the upcoming SFIndie Film Festival), it becomes obvious that someone has died and Maggie (Aemilia Scott) is having trouble coping. But this is not your typical hospital drama. And so, when a young doctor (Joey Lesiak) arrives in the hospital room to move the corpse of Maggie's boyfriend, Max (Marty Shutter), down to the basement -- and the bereaved young woman asks if she can come along -- it's only a hop, skip, and jump past the morgue's refrigerator to the kind of black comedy one would normally expect from the British.

The doctor (Joey  Lesiak) and Maggie (Aemilia Scott)
 transport  Max's corpse to the hospital's morgue

Although she understands intellectually that Max is dead, Maggie is not yet ready to part with him emotionally. Wheeling his gurney out to the parking lot, she stuffs her dead boyfriend into the back seat of her car and tries to figure out what her next steps should be. Luckily for Maggie, she's a grocery clerk at a large supermarket that has a huge walk-in refrigerator.

Aemilia Scott as Maggie

Written and directed by Aemilia Scott (who also stars as Maggie), Best If Used By takes a breathtaking turn as Maggie's co-workers and Max's parents gather in the supermarket's walk-in for a makeshift wake as they try to help Maggie face reality. Deciding to take Max for one last trip to his favorite spot at the seashore before delivering his body to a funeral home, they transform this curious short film from a bizarre black comedy into a tender and loving sendoff to a young man who died too soon.

Max's family and friends take him for one last moment by the sea

Touching performances come from Christian Stolte as Maggie's supermarket boss, Jack Bronis as a socially inept co-worker, Peggy Roeder as Max's mother, and Joey Lesiak as the sympathetic young physician. Here's the trailer:

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As one gets into the habit of attending readings of new works in development, one occasionally has the privilege of seeing a play blossom from an idea into a fully-staged drama. Among the many talented writers who participate in Playground's incubator program for aspiring playwrights, Katie May has shown a remarkably strong command of language and new ideas. Her hilarious ten-minute play, Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero, was one of the winners included in the 2011 Best of Playground Festival and was one of the works chosen for the inaugural Best of Playground Film Festival in 2012.

During the 2012 Best of Playground Festival I had a chance to attend a staged reading of Ms. May's Manic Pixie Dream Girl, an adventurous romantic comedy which she hoped could be staged in a format with the look and feel of a graphic novel. The revised play had its world premiere this week at A.C.T.'s Costume Shop with a cast headed by Joshua Roberts as Lee Tallman, a narcissistic artist facing eviction because he has fallen behind on his rent.

Tallman (whom everyone refers to by his last name) has been in the dumps ever since his lover/muse, Jackie (who he met when she was a bitchy cocktail waitress) dumped his sorry ass, got herself a corporate job with benefits, and moved on up to a relationship with the very macho Rick the Realtor (Lucas Hatton). Unable to paint without Jackie's inspiration, the play opens as he slaps her face and then tries to explain to the audience that he's not the kind of guy who hits girls.

Tallman (Joshua Roberts) and his best friend Porter Price
(Michael Barrett Austin) meet for drinks as a bartender
(Lucas Hatton) listens in. (Photo by: Chesca Rueda)

One day Tallman meets a beautiful young woman whose pockets are full of Starburst candy wrappers but doesn't talk. She's trusting, mysterious, and comes back to his apartment. Soon, she has replaced Jackie as his muse and Tallman is starting to paint again.  But Lilly (Lyndsy Kail) belongs in a psychiatric group home. Even after learning that there is a reward for information leading to Lilly's whereabouts, Tallman's selfishness makes him reluctant to let her go.

Tallman (Joshua Roberts) and Lilly (Lyndsy Kail)
(Photo by: Chesca Rueda)

In Jackie's eyes, the problem is simple. She's grown up and embraced an adult lifestyle while Tallman is still acting like a needy child. Even Tallman's best friend, Porter Price (Michael Barrett Austin) thinks Tallman is full of shit and explains the meaning of true love in a graphic tale of what it's like to share a night of food poisoning, projective vomiting, and explosive diarrhea with the woman you love and, once you've recovered, still be able to have sex with each other.

When I first attended a reading of May's play, I was curious to see how it would develop in a fully-staged production. The highlight of the evening was the supporting character of an air-headed bartender with an extremely limited vocabulary. Under Jon Tracy's direction, the fully-realized Manic Pixie Dream Girl became a taut and often tense drama in which Tallman's selfishness eventually succumbed to Lilly's clinical need for adult supervision.

The production design included drawings by Rob Dario (click here to view his artwork) which were to be projected onto one of the large screens that was part of the set. However, on press night, a computer problem messed things up and many of Dario's images could not be seen by the audience.

Jackie (Liz Anderson) and her new boyfriend, Rick the Realtor (Lucas Hatton)
Photo by: Chesca Rueda

Under certain circumstances, this could be a devastating setback for an aspiring playwright's opening night. However, because Tracy's ensemble was so tightly focused and May's writing is so incredibly forceful (and funny), the technical snafu had only minimal impact on the evening.

Liz Anderson was a bewitching, uncompromising Jackie. Michael Barrett Austin made the most of his scatological soliloquy while Lyndsy Kail's radiant portrayal of Lilly was genuinely touching. Joshua Roberts did a beautiful job in the lead role while Lucas Hatton's portrayals of the evil Rick the Realtor, a psychiatric nurse, and a vapid bartender demonstrated impressive versatility.

Playwright Katie May

Performances of Manic Pixie Dream Girl continue at A.C.T.'s Costume shop through February 10 (click here to order tickets). Let there be no doubt that Katie May is a talent worth following.

1 comment:

Kim Frankel said...

This post is excellent. I saw Manic Pixie Dreamgirl one night before, when Dario's work was projected beautifully and loved the show. I recommend it.