City Circle - One never knows what you'll get when you go to a night of original work. Fortunately, City Circle has chosen an excellent group of entertaining short plays. The execution of those plays is almost perfect with just a couple of misfires.
But before we get to the plays themselves, I have a request for City Circle. Please provide the audience with the correct order of the plays. The program has a completely different order from what we were shown and it was confusing.
The highlights of the evening were the opening play and the final play. Go Fish by Rachel Howell depicts a card game between a young woman and her grandfather. Some of the dialogue is not what I would have used with my grandparent, but an effortless connection between the two actors makes it completely believable. Lorin Ditzler is particularly good as "Midget", the young woman with a secret. With her easygoing posture and sweet facial expressions, she demonstrates complete love for her "Poppi", played by Kehry Lane. I would like to see this play expanded beyond ten minutes. The characters are rich and interesting and there is more to the story than we were shown.
The final play of the night, Nano Romantico by Rebecca Christian, produced the biggest laughs. The show comically illustrates the dangers of speed dating. Rachel Howell is brilliantly funny in her roles as Disabilities Woman and Ferret Woman. Also funny as the other example of speed dating horror is Derek Schmeling. Thomas Henrich and Becca Robinson have the more difficult roles as the straight people in this silliness and they both do a wonderful job of portraying regular folks caught in a crazy situation. Henrich's facial expressions, in particular, are fun to watch and perfectly mirrored what the audience was feeling.
Also notable were Distinctly Tasteful by Vicki Krajewski, Four for Prayer by Ellen Harris, Negotiated Safety by Chris Okiishi, and Murder by Midnight by Jeff Goode. In Murder, Andrew R. Juhl commands the stage as the hotel detective Dick Piston in this humorous take on the Sam Spade archetype. Distinctly Tasteful had many funny moments although there were times when I wasn't sure if it was a comedy or tragedy. I think it would have been more successful if it were played as a more over-the-top comedy. Nevertheless, Christen Conrad as Flouncy, a Blanche Dubois-like character, is fun to watch. Four for Prayer examines the life of Heloise, the scholar and abbess whose letters with Peter Abelard are the best known examples of early romantic love. We are presented the story of Heloise through four versions of the woman at different stages of her life. Erin Larson and Becca Robinson are particularly moving as the two youngest versions. Like Go Fish, this play could be expanded into an interesting full length show. Finally, Negotiated Safety was notable for its comedic writing and surprise ending. Strong acting by all four actors, particulary Rachel Howell, made this one of the most engaging plays of the night.
The two pieces that didn't work very well were the two monologues - Sacrificial Bunt by Kent Forsberg and The Scene of the Accident by Amy White. Both are excellently written, but director and actor choices prevent the words from reaching their full potential. In The Scene of the Accident, the director chose to have the actress, Erin Larson, speak to an empty chair rather than the audience. This handicapped Larson, who showed considerable skill in Four for Prayer, by giving her neither an actor or even the audience to connect with. She would have benefited from stronger direction. Sacrificial Bunt was not effective because the actor didn't take the audience on the emotional journey of the story, instead maintaining the same level of feeling throughout the entire piece. When the truly shocking parts of the story come to light, we just don't feel it. However, I have learned since that the performer was actually the director, Jesse Blaine, who had to memorize the piece in one day after the original actor dropped out. The theatre grapevine has informed me that that particularly piece has only gotten stronger with each performance. And I can believe that as the monologue as written is very powerful.
This is an evening of theatre definitely worth seeing. City Circle is to be commended for consistently offering a platform for local playwrights. Support this important work by buying a ticket and enjoying a night of funny and thoughtful theatre.
Matthew has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Iowa. He has directed, acted in, and produced theater in the Iowa City area for over ten years. He has worked with the Iowa City Community Theatre, City Circle and Dreamwell, of which he is a founder. Two of his plays have been produced in the Iowa City area. In another brief life, he also worked as a technical writer.
(Top picture: Esack Grueskin and Rachel Howell in Negotiated Safety. Middle picture: Lorin Ditzler and Kehry Lane in Go Fish. Bottom picture: Christen Conrad and Spencer Lindquist in Distinctly Tasteful. Photos courtesy of City Circle.)