Reviewed by Alec Clayton
Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need) at Centerstage is a group of eight one-acts written by eight different playwrights, with four different directors (Trista Duval, Angela Bayler, Alyson Soma and Tori Dewar) and performed over a period of about an hour and a half by a hard-working and talented ensemble cast comprised of Sharon Armstrong, Andrea Benson, Cassie Fastabend, Jacob Tice, Tom Livingston, Tim Takechi, and LaNita Hudson Walters.
Centerstage Artistic Director Trista Duval said, “The stories depicted in this evening of scenes cover a range of eras, life experiences, locations, and emotions. I think they say something a little different to everyone, depending on where you are mentally and emotionally in this moment. It is my sincere hope that you experience moments of joy and fun during these performances, and that you experience moments where you feel understood and seen in your darker and tougher times.”
Some of the scenes are funny, some touching, and most involve a big of magic realism. And, as is to be expected with different writers and directors, the quality varies.
The first scene, “Our Ten,” by Mark Harvey Levine, is one of the weaker of the eight—or maybe I was caught off balance because I wasn’t expecting the magic element. It seemed to start out as a radio broadcast with the cast performing as DJs, announcers, and a call-in listener. And then it switches to a live scene of events taking place on a freeway: a woman giving birth and a person threatening suicide by jumping off an overpass; and all the people who were in the radio station moments before are witnesses to what happens on the freeway. It is inventive and, to me, a sometimes hard-to-understand story.
“You Can Thank Me Later” by Ruben Carbajal features Takechi as a man flying over a city and into restricted air space over an airport in a lawn chair lifted into the air by 45 weather balloons, and Livingston as a man on a phone trying to talk him down. This one is hilarious and thought provoking.
“Poof,” written by Lynn Nottage, is one of the most brilliant and entertaining scenes of the evening, and also one that comments importantly on domestic violence. In this scene, Loureen (Armstrong) accidentally kills her abusive husband in a magical way which I will not give away here. (Or she thinks she has killed him.) And she calls her neighbor Florence (Walters) to help her figure out what to do next.
In “Ghost Story,” written by Rachel Luann Strayer, Natalie (Fastabend) obsessively reads a ghost story on Christmas Eve while her husband, Doug (Tice) tries to get her to help him trim the Christmas tree. It is realistic with a bit of nostalgia, and beautifully acted by Tice and Fastabend.
“Spam Symphony” by Alex Broun is a surrealistic modern dance or poem with the entire cast performing as spam emails sent to Takechi.
In “Ghost of a Character,” written by Mranalini Kamath, Tice as Sir Conan Doyle talks to Sherlock Holmes (Livingston) about an actual case involving a racist murder. In the process of solving the murder, Doyle and his most famous character reveal much about the minds of writers—of this writer in particular. At one point in the story Holmes says to his creator, “Why do you not leave me alone?” which might be the central question about the relationship of any writer to his or her characters.
Finally, one of the deepest stories of the bunch, is “Real Art,” written by Louise Wigglesworth. In it, a woman named Loretta (Andrea Benson) wants to buy a piece of “real art” by Abby (Fastabend), but Abby doesn’t want to sell it because it’s her first and only “Best in Show.” Somewhat like the writer-character exchange in “Ghost of a Character,” this one becomes a philosophical discussion on art between the artist and her patron. Stellar acting by Fastabend and Benson.
Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need) was filmed at Dukesbay Theatre and can be watched online. Virtual tickets give access to the show for 24 hours, anytime from now to Nov. 15.
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