Piece of One

Last night, seven actors performed eight plays in Shaefer Theater. Some might assume the show must have lasted into the wee hours of the morning, but these plays are all quite short, the longest being no more than 15 minutes. All are part of a compilation called Pieces of Eight.

The eight pieces in question were created by eight different writers, all who could win the prize for "Best Contemporary Playwright." Beckett, Albee, Stoppard, Lardner, Pinter, Feiffer, Anderson and Ionesco are not names to be brushed over in the drama world--if not world renowned, each playwright is quite famous within his genre.

Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to group these playwrights together to form a cohesive dramatic whole. There is no central theme among the plays except for the second set, which at least all fit into the absurdist genre. Since there is no proverbial glue to hold the plays together, the audiences gets a choppy, sporadic and uneven theatrical experience.

The first vignette--The Unexpected Memoir of Bernard Mergandeiler by Jules Feiffer--starts the compilation off strong because of the piece's humor and reality. Also in this piece, the audience will catch its first glimpse of a half-naked Paul William Downs. It is certainly not the last of the night. The actors, Downs and Sarah Kalemeris, seem to enjoy what they're doing and we enjoy watching them.

The second vignette is where things start to fall apart. The Black and White was written by Harold Pinter, known for his tricky language and dialogue. The actors in the piece, Talya Klein and Kacey Henley, play old women who are sitting down for a cup of soup. The text is extremely difficult, and if it isn't delivered in the appropriate Pinter manner, the audience will not understand what the story is about. The actors teetered on the verge of this fatal mistake.

The third and fourth short plays are funny and cute, but without real substance or merit. The Tridget of Greva by Ring Lardner has great potential to be hysterical, but the three male actors lack comedic timing. Perhaps this is something that will be worked out over the course of the weekend. The fourth play, The Sandbox by Edward Albee, proves only that Talya Klein is an exceptional character actor.

The (15 Minute) Dogg's Troupe Hamlet by Tom Stoppard is absolutely the best play of the entire evening. It's obvious the actors love the piece because of the energy they put into it. Other parts of the evening seem to drag because the energy levels of the actors are so low, but certainly not here. Anything Stoppard is guaranteed to be great, and here he pulls the best parts from one of Shakespeare's longest plays and condenses it into less than 15 minutes. The Fifteen Minute Hamlet has got the best lines and best scenes of the Shakespeare classic wrapped into a dramedy and delivered to you with a ribbon on top. The rest of the evening is worth it just for this one play.

After intermission comes the dramatic Samuel Beckett play Come and Go, which leaves you completely confused without an inkling of understanding. Beckett is always hard to undertstand, but he shouldn't be this hard. The Eugene Ionesco piece, Foursome, is funny because it is so absurd and this works. The last piece, I'm Herbert by Robert Anderson, ends the night on the weakest note possible. The two actors, Henley and Martin Damien Wilkins, seem to say their lines because they're supposed to. There is no thought involved in any aspect of the piece and what could be entertaining instead induces sleep. The two actors clearly didn't do their homework. Objectives within the scene were completely unclear, leaving a hazy residue of a scene. Not a good way to end things.

Most of the vignettes in Pieces of Eight could hold their own alone, or at least parts of them could. The problem with the production is the grouping of these plays. If the director had made more of an effort to streamline the production, perhaps it would flow easier, yielding a more pleasurable product. It's only worth seeing the production for a few of the plays, but those make the night worth it.


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