Reviewed by George Basler
The latest KNOW Theatre production is entitled Provocative, Pointed and Purely Funny: An Evening with Edward Allan Baker, and that pretty much sums up what audiences will experience.
Black humor, social commentary and heartache are on full display in Baker’s three one-act plays , which opened this past weekend (April 7-9) and will run for two more weekends.
While the plays are uneven, powerful performances by a first-rate cast make for a compelling evening.
Baker, whose lengthy resume includes 14 one-act plays, is currently chair of the playwriting component of The Actors Studio Drama School MFA Program at Pace University. But his roots go back to Providence, Rhode Island, where he grew up in a working-class, Italian/Irish-English family. The three plays, being staged by KNOW Theatre, all feature working-class characters living lives of quiet, and not so quiet, desperation.
Dolores, the first play of the evening, is arguably Baker’s best known work. Tony Award-winning actor Joan Allen was in the original cast, and the play has been performed all over the world.
The slice-of-life drama features two sisters: Dolores (Amoreena Wade), a desperate, emotionally unstable woman trying to escape her abusive husband, and Sandra (Joanna Patchett), who reluctantly hides Dolores in her working-class apartment.
The two women argue — sometimes humorously, sometimes pointedly — as dark family secrets get revealed.
The play, as directed by Tim Gleason, KNOW’s artistic director, is a wrenching experience. Baker successfully mixes dark moments with moments of brittle humor. The tension builds to an ending that is truly jarring.
Both Wade and Patchett give strong performances while dealing with the characters’ Rhode Island accents.
Wade, who has the pivotal role, effectively catches Dolores’ manic instability and regret without ever going over the top. Especially poignant are the moments when the character remembers traumatic childhood abuse the scars from which have never really healed.
As Sandra, Patchett does a masterful job in slowly revealing the character’s own emotional heartache that she struggles to keep hidden under a veneer of toughness and self-delusion.
The second play of the evening, Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Beauty and Truth, also takes place in a working-class apartment in Providence. The action centers on two teenage sisters (Katelyn Rundell and Jessica Nogaret) who work to recruit their down-on his-heels uncle (Gleason, doing double duty) to help them escape from their drug-addicted, violent mother (who is never seen on stage).
The play, ably directed by Josh Sedelmeyer, is another slice-of-life drama that contains many strong moments. However, it lacks the visceral power of Dolores, possibly because it’s overloaded with plot twists. Some of these twists seem contrived.
There’s no quarrel with the acting, however. Rundell, Nogaret and Gleason are all first rate, bringing shading and nuances to their emotionally wounded characters.
After two emotional intense plays, Mafia on Prozac ends the evening on a humorous note. The play features two aging hitmen (Nick DeLucia and Nick Ponterio) who experience a midlife crisis while waiting to throw their latest victim, bundled in a canvas sack, off a pier into the ocean.
The pair engage in a rambling philosophical discussion while the man in the sack (Duncan Lyle) begs to be thrown into the ocean so he doesn’t have to keep listening to their blathering.
Along the way, Baker touches on issues of friendship, and whether life is a matter of choice or chance. It’s all pretty opaque and lost me about halfway through. Still, Mafia on Prozac has many funny moments and is quite enjoyable. My advice is not to overthink the play; just enjoy the funny moments.
DeLucia and Ponterio make a stellar team. Their comic timing is spot on, and they seem to be having a ball playing their roles. That being said, Lyle comes close to stealing the play as the potential victim who would rather die than continue to be “tortured” by the hitmen’s musings.
Baker is a playwright I had never heard of before KNOW Theatre’s production, but his work is certainly interesting. Dolores, especially, is a play I won’t soon forget.
IF YOU GO: Provocative. Pointed and Purely Funny: An Evening with Edward Allan Baker will be performed through April 23 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 ($18 for seniors, $15 for students). Go online to www.knowtheatre.org or call 724-4341.
There will be a pay-what-you-can performance at 8 p.m. today (Thursday, April 13).