Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
There was a world premiere this weekend in Fenton. It wasn’t widely publicized but Fenton Village Players offers a range of theatrical presentations and opportunities and this was one of them. Odyssey and Performer, two one-act plays, were both written and directed by local playwright Joseph Mishler.
Not main stage productions, these two were Second Stage events presented in the smaller activity room of the playhouse. Audience members sat at tables – cabaret style – very close to the actors and the action that took place on an elevated platform.
The first offering, Odyssey, found two veterans, Him (Sean Mueller) and Her (Casey Gross) about to be discharged from the service. It is 1968 and they are Viet Nam veterans with no real desire to leave but with no desire to stay either. Both apparently suffer from PTSD episodes and have holed up in a motel while they try their best to face what their existence will be going forward.
The play unfolded in vignettes with numerous blackouts marking the end of scenes. The conversation between these two makes up the plot as She relives the horror experienced in battlefield nursing while He finds most of his experience nearly too difficult to articulate.
The angst of that time came through in the lines but not so much in the emotion from these two. Gross brought some believable pain to her memories and to her struggle to return to “normal” life. Mueller, however, although clearly describing his character as a gentle young man thrown into a terrifying situation, didn’t bring the same level of reality to his character.
The script seemed to focus on speech and memory rather than movement. With the players on an elevated stage, a creaky one at that, their scene divisions were motivated if noisy. Overall, this trip back in time may not really be such a long way after all. With U.S. soldiers still at war, many are coming home today facing the same dilemmas. Mishler’s play provides heavy food for thought.
The second play, titled Performer, relied on a much lighter premise. Dana Forton (Gina Joy Roemer) is watching an outdoor play at a Dickens Festival when she is approached by a gentleman claiming to be Charles Dickens (Jim Pike). It doesn’t take long for these two to wind up entwined back at her apartment with Dana trying to find out who he really is while Dickens is experiencing culture shock at his sudden time-hop forward.
The idea of time travel is intriguing and his arrival at a Dickens Festival is logically ironic. Dana is an actress and of course “Charlie”(she calls him that) wants to see her perform. Finally it almost happens after they go through too many relationship-cementing scenes and commit to a lifetime together complete with a bed of rose petals.
Unfortunately, there is a wealth of time juxtaposition issues that could have been exploited, but the script spent more time, including too many darkened scene changes, revealing the love affair’s progress. Somewhere along the way, the idea of this really being Charles Dickens faded and that was too bad.
Both actors were good at portraying two people attracted to each other although Pike might have been a bit more proper, or at least English, in his delivery. It was too easy to forget who he was supposed to be.
Roemer was animated and appropriately flamboyant. Great facial expression and enthusiasm brought her character charm and spunk.
Mishler is involved in the Holly Dickens Festival so we understand where the idea may have popped into his head. It is a clever idea, but it just seemed to get bogged down in the affair with only sparse nods paid to time warp issues.
We enjoyed being invited to view these two plays. We are always amazed at the effort and involvement that must go into first writing the script and then trusting actors to interpret your words for the world. It was fun.