Monday, April 22, 2013

If These Walls Could Talk

In 1968, Neil Simon landed a big  Broadway hit with Plaza Suite, an evening of three short comedies. Each act took place in suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Eight years later, Simon premiered California Suite before audiences in Los Angeles. In this case, four small plays were set in suite 203-204 of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

One often hears people mutter "I wish I could have been a fly on the wall..." or "If those walls could talk, I'll bet they'd have stories to tell." This concept has great appeal to playwrights and producers who (a) are looking to keep their budget for scenery within reason, and (b) have a series of short plays they'd like to showcase over the course of an evening.

One of the shorts being shown at next month's Second Annual Playground Film Festival takes this approach by overlapping three stories in one location. In The Secret Life of a Hotel Room, Garret Jon Groenveld's short play has been brought to the screen by filmmakers Greg and Mark Runnels.

Johnny Moreno portrays Brad, a traveling businessman who is a recovering addict. Having just arrived in a strange town, he is lonely, nervous, and unsure of what comes next. He makes a cryptic phone call (to his wife? sponsor?) before changing clothes and dialing the hotel's concierge to inquire where he might find a meeting Narcotics Anonymous.

Johnny Moreno as Brad in The Secret Life of a Hotel Room

Don (Patrick Russell) and his mildly hung over wife (Erica Wright) are two newlyweds enjoying their honeymoon. Basking in the afterglow of a fantastic wedding night, Don is eager and ready for more sex. He wants to do "filthy things" to his bride in every part of their hotel room and insists that she not freshen up before their next round of sex.  Why not? Don wants to discover how his bride smells after each and every climax.

Sexual hunger is the last thing on the minds of Alan (Lawrence Radecker) and Liz (Carla Pantoja), a middle-aged couple who are taking a break from caring for an aging parent. Liz is the kind of nitpicky fussbudget who is convinced that all kinds of germs and bodily fluids remain on the bedspread and the rest of the furniture in their hotel room. Alan just wants to watch some television, get on with his life and not be bothered with her nagging phobias.

In the following clips, you can see moments from the stage version of The Secret Life of a Hotel Room and then listen to the playwright explain the "prompt" from Playground's artistic staff that served as his inspiration.

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While Theatre Rhinoceros and New Conservatory Theatre Center are the two oldest LGBT theatre companies in the San Francisco Bay area, last year Left Coast Theatre Company emerged from the GuyWriters Playwrights and began carving a niche for itself as a community theatre group. Specializing in short plays primarily created by local writers, its aim is to produce queer-themed works

Sometimes they hit it out of the park with fresh, strong writing and hysterically funny performances.  Other times, not so much.

Their current production, I'm Not Okay, Cupid, suffers from weak writing, acting, some pretty amateurish acting, and poor direction for much of the evening. One can see the spark that inspired the playwrights whose work is being showcased, only to sigh as each play fails to find its spine. Some pieces are badly overwritten, some just don't work. Briefly, they include:

A Small Fishing Nation Wedged Between Estonia and Latvia: Andrew Black's hostage comedy (directed by ShawnJ West) features three men named Steve and a young woman named Lacy (Laura Espino). The play opens with Steve #1 (Chris Maltby) and Steve #2 (Dene Larson) tied to chairs in their living room as two young burglars prepare to make off with their valuables and several pieces of art.

Trying to outwit the burglars, the older Steves make believe that they have a piece by Roy Lichtenstein that has obviously been left off the burglars' list of acquisitions. They also point out the many ways that Lacy's young accomplice, Steve #3 (Richard Sargent), will probably fail their heterosexuality test.  If he does, Lacy has to untie the two older men and leave the younger Steve in their clutches. Sure enough, her accomplice can't resist the handcuffs and Barbie dolls.

Chris Maltby and Dene Larson are being robbed in
A Small Fishing Village Wedged Between Estonia & Latvia

Lollipops:In James A. Martin's play (directed by Hayley Saccomano), a confused middle-aged actress  (Barbara Ann Cecchetti) discovers what appears to be the dead body of her date from the previous night (Hayley Saccomano) on the floor of her living room. Frantically trying to figure out how to dispose of the body, she keeps getting interrupted by calls from her excited agent, Alex (Debi Durst), a big old dyke with a potential for road rage who has big, big news. News to die for!

Will Sandy get to Texas in time to appear in the sequel that starts shooting on Friday? The answer lies in the curative power of the lollipops (containing medical marijuana) left over from the previous night's debauchery.

Alex (Debi Durst) watches as Sandy (Barbara Ann Cecchetti)
revives Lolita (Hayley Saccomano) in Lollipops

Goodbye, Cupid: Written by Rodney "Rhoda" Taylor and directed by John Anderson Hamner, this play opens with young Kris (Dan O'Reilly) and his older lover, Adam (Chris Maltby), arguing about whether they should go out or stay in for the evening. When Brook (Matthew Thomas Ward) and Cupid (Richard Sargent) stop by on their way to a costume party, it becomes obvious that Kris and Cupid have been planning to hook up without their daddies.

Kris (Dan O'Reilly) and Cupid (Richard Sargent) have
the hots for each other in  Goodbye, Cupid

That Bitch: Written by Rich Orloff and directed by Joseph Frank, this piece proved to be one of the stronger works in the program. Mary (Laura Espino) is a young widow whose grief is eclipsed only  by her narcissism. Although her friend, Louise (Hayley Saccomano), is trying to be supportive, Mary's self-pitying antics are driving Louise crazy.

When Mary's next-door neighbor, Georgia (Danielle O'Dea), arrives to complain about Mary's dog burrowing under her fence, there is a sudden shift in the power dynamics. An self-assured, aggressive lesbian who isn't interested in any of Mary's melodrama, Georgia is more than willing to teach the new widow how to handle a gun....and a few other things. Hayley Saccomano's classic delivery of several perfectly timed wisecracks easily brought down the house.

Louise (Hayley Saccomano) listens to her self-absorbed
newly wiowed friend, Mary (Laura Espino) in That Bitch

The Parenthetical Trap: Written and directed by Joseph Frank (with Hayley Saccomano co-directing), this hyperkinetic play was bursting with energy that seemed to scatter in all directions. Chuck (Kyle Glasow) and his younger brother, Charlie (Dawson Montoya), are two underage gay twits constantly engaged in sibling rivalry. When Charlie claims to be a power bottom, Chuck is quick to remind his little brother that Charlie doesn't even know what that means). That doesn't  stop Charlie from boasting that "I ran 12 miles, swam five, and squeezed in a 30-mile bike ride today."

The boys have decorated their apartment to resemble the restaurant where their mother (Gabrielle Motarjemi) and father (Joseph Frank) first met. While they hope that their parents will reunite, there's a lot they don't know about the adults in the room.

Chuck (Kyle Glasow) and Charlie (Dawson Montoya) are
two young gay brothers in The Parenthetical Trap

Four Dry Tongues: Written by Alex Dremann and directed by ShawnJ West, this play brings together two men and two women (each of whom can't stop lusting after the wrong person). Tristan (Michael Erickson) and his fag hag friend, Ginny (Angela Chandra) are obsessed with the tall and handsome Matt (Robert Rushin). Matt has grown so inured to being fawned over by every man and woman he meets that the only person he's interested in his lesbian friend, Laura (Danielle O'Dea).

Things are going nowhere fast until an odd twist of events creates an unexpected spark between Tristan and Ginny. Suddenly, Matt starts to get interested and Laura begins to tune in and get turned on.

Matt (Robert Rushin) fascinates Tristan (Michael Erickson),
Ginny (Angela Chandra), and Laura (Danielle O'Dea).

Because Left Coast Theatre usually presents at least six plays on any program, the cast for the evening is often surprisingly large. The company made good use of the handsome unit set. The most interesting performances came from Dan O'Reilly, Kyle Glasow, Danielle O'Dea, and Dawson Montoya.

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