Corn Stock Winter Playhouse
November 21 - 24
By Douglas Okey
Finally: An evening of theatre for the attention-challenged. Corn Stock Winter Playhouse continues its season with “Relatively Speaking,” a collection of three one-act comedies from the pens of some notable Hollywood names. The directors of the three pieces are products of Corn Stock’s in-house effort to develop directing talent, this time under the guidance of Tim Wyman.
The collection’s title suggests the theme that loosely holds the evening together: Our relatives, speaking or not, mold and mash our lives from childhood into middle age. (To be more precise, the play might as well be called “Maleficent Mothers.”) This theme, however, does not constrain the playwrights; their stories range widely in subject and style.
First up is “Talking Cure” from Ethan Coen, half of the hugely successful Hollywood writing/directing/producing Coen Brothers team. (Think “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men.”) Directed by Blake Stubbs, the piece features a series of counseling sessions between Larry, played by Andrew Rodenbaugh, a resident committed to a mental hospital after an unspecified incident at the post office, and his doctor, played by Wyman. Rodenbaugh deftly captures Larry’s increasing paranoia as the doctor’s therapy sessions spiral ever closer to the causes of his disordered conduct: his family. The scene-blackout-scene structure works well for the most part, but falters as the story transitions awkwardly to the final scene, outside of the pattern and narrative timeline of the rest of the piece. In any case, that final scene, featuring Nate Downs and Megan Larke as a couple expecting both dinner guests and a baby, reveals all.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Elaine May’s “George Is Dead” follows, directed by Leaann Thornton Liesse. This is a more straightforward comedy of situation than Coen’s piece. It features excellent performances by Mollie Huisman as Carla and Helen Engelbrecht as Doreen. Wealthy socialite Doreen arrives unannounced at the tiny apartment of Carla late at night, declaring that her husband George has died in a skiing accident in Aspen. Carla is the daughter of Doreen’s former nanny, which suggests a tenuous social connection, and at first Doreen’s visit has even Carla mystified. Gradually Doreen’s motives are exposed, and the story becomes a darkly comic exploration of character. As in Coen’s story, the arrival of two other characters played by Downs and Nan Coleman are necessary to fully reveal the significant theme. Huisman, in an understated performance as Carla, provides some of the most emotionally moving moments of the entire evening.
After an intermission, the evening concludes with “Honeymoon Motel” from cinema legend Woody Allen. Here Allen returns to his farcical sketch-comedy roots, producing a property more reminiscent of classic Neil Simon, complete with creaky Borscht-Belt Jewish-comic sensibilities. Directed by Gary Hale, “Honeymoon Hotel” presents an off-kilter version of the wedding-night rapture. Spoiler? Well, let’s just say that the couple who show up at the tacky motel are not who they first appear to be. Viagra-generation Jerry, ably portrayed by Paul Gordon, carries young Nina, played by Kerri Rae, across the threshold. It’s nearly the last time they will be alone in the room. Rae’s cheery performance is perfect for Nina, but the more central characters are about to show up, including Engelbrecht as mother-of-the-groom Judy and Cheri Beever as Nina’s mom, Fay. Both women turn in very funny performances as they try to process a wedding gone very wrong indeed. Local stalwart Clark Rians does comic work as Judy’s husband Sam, with Downs appearing in his best role of the evening as the slightly tipsy rabbi. Wyman as Jerry’s pal Eddie does some funny bits with a camera. Brian McKinley is sturdy as scene-pivot Sal, the pizza guy, and we even get to see Corn Stock Manager Cindy Hoey as the Freudian-stereotype Dr. Brill.
The directors serve the material well, which is not easy in the space’s arena staging. And again, none of these stories will challenge you much emotionally, but they do provide some easy laughs. Rest assured: These are light and relaxing comedies, perfect for a break from those accelerating holiday preparations.
Relatively Speaking runs Friday & Saturday at 7:30 pm and at 2:30 pm on Sunday at the Corn Stock Theatre Center in Bradley Park. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and are available at the Corn Stock Box Office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com
Posted November 22, 2013