By Matthew Falduto
Last week, the TCR Underground New Play Festival opened with a lot of laughs. The night of short comedies was a great success. Last night, things took a more serious turn. The two one act plays by Iowa playwrights tackled abortion, extramarital affairs, and lots of deception. The common thread through both shows were the powerful performances by the actors.
Passage by Wesley Broulik tells the story of two college professors and their tumultuous affair. Leslie Charipar and Christopher Cole as Miranda and Howard created believable, flawed characters. The script takes the audience on a roller coaster ride as we race through the ups and downs of their relationship. Passionate one moment and vicious the next, the actors commit fully to these desperate souls drawing us into their pain and loneliness. As the first scene ends, we are not certain what choices these characters will make. Will they stay together and attempt a real relationship? Will he confess all to his wife and beg for forgiveness? I had my opinion… and then we got the second scene.
The second scene takes place many months before the first, allowing the audience to see a pre-affair meeting between these characters as well as introducing Howard’s wife, Barbara, the subject of much discussion in the first scene. Barbara is wonderfully portrayed by Kimberly Meyer. This scene provides a greater context for the relationship we are introduced to in the first scene. The genius of the play is that this scene, told out of chronological order, informs the first scene and allows the audience to better form opinions about the ultimate fate of these characters. I enjoyed this play immensely, caught up in the powerful acting and the quick witted words. Perhaps my favorite moment is when Miranda declares with all of her feminist outrage, “I am not a damsel!” and Howard laments softly, “I think we all need saving.”Indeed we do, Howard, and the fact that none of these characters allow themselves to be saved is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the story.
Speaking of tragedies, the second show was That One Thing by Erica Jo Hoye. From early on, we know where this play is going and we are certain there can be no happy ending. Megan (Megan Anderson) and Adam (Andrew Clancey) are newly married, but don’t know each other as well as they thought. Early on, Megan discovers Adam is a Republican, the anathema to everything she believes in. While Adam never lied precisely, he certainly allowed her to believe he shared her views, and this initial deception only leads to Megan’s devastating deception later on. Megan quizzes Adam and discovers that, with one exception, his views are not really all that different than her own. (This provided some of the funniest moments of the play, as Republican ideas were skewered very effectively… though I doubt the humor would play as well in Steve King’s district…) However, that one exception is the taboo of all taboo subjects… abortion.
As these two desperately move from attempting to understand each other’s position to sweeping it under the rug to finally being forced to confront the issue, we are treated to two powerhouse performances by Anderson and Clancey. What’s clear is Megan and Adam love each other dearly and are searching for a way out of this impossible situation. We all have our opinions on the abortion issue, but the strength of this play is that no matter which side you fall on, these characters as created by Clancey and Anderson are so real and heartbreakingly honest that we come away with empathy if not total understanding for the other point of view. And when it comes to abortion, empathy is often the best result we can hope for.
If you want to be challenged and swept away by passion and heartbreak, see these shows. Or if you want to enjoy powerful performances and smart direction, get to Theatre Cedar Rapids tonight. Maybe you want a chance to say, I knew that playwright when… well then the Grandon Studio is where you should be heading in just a few hours. The shows are only playing tonight at 7:30 pm. Don’t miss them!
The New Play Festival concludes Saturday and Sunday with a full length play, Baby Jesus and the Queen of Hearts by Robert Lynn. Original theatre in Iowa is alive and well – don’t miss it!