An exceptional pair of plays
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, May 5, 2011
Take two of the city’s finest actors, shake them together with an inspired and masterful theater company, slather on a large dollop of Academy Award-winning talent, and the chances you’ll end up with something satisfying and delectable are all but guaranteed. Such is the case with Mother Road Theatre Company’s newest offering, Virtual Reality.
This prop-less play is the first in a series of rarely produced one-acts taking over The Filling Station, called The Empty Space Series. This one happens to be penned by Alan Arkin (who earned an Oscar for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine and also happens to sit on Mother Road’s artistic advisory committee) and is directed by David Sinkus. Bill Sterchi and Chad Christensen-Brummett are the piece’s sole performers, filling the roles of two men hired to do a job neither they nor the audience know much of anything about.
What we do know is this: The two men are instructed to meet in a warehouse, where they’re to wait for a mysterious delivery that will clarify their mission. De Recha (Sterchi) is the guy who’s been put in charge. To kill time while they wait, he insists on doing a dry run of unloading whatever delivery is to come. The younger of the two, Lefty (Christensen-Brummett), scoffs at the idea. They can’t possibly predict what’s coming and therefore can’t mime what they’ll do once it gets there. But Lefty eventually gives in, and that’s when surreality tiptoes on stage.
Arkin’s script is quick-witted and infused with humor that rises from equal parts deadpan and absurdity. It’s the actors, though, who make this piece so magnetic. Sterchi and Christensen-Brummett ricochet off each other like rubber bullets, creating a frothing whirlwind of hilarity and drama. Sterchi has the grace and perfectly timed patience of a seasoned pro. He gives the audience reason to think he is, in fact, De Recha in all his endearing anal-retentive glory. The guy fills the room. Likewise, Christensen-Brummett is treasured as one of Albuquerque’s prize talents, and rightfully so. Anyone who’s seen him perform knows he does drama with the best of them, and it’s nice to see him tackle (and emerge victorious from) a more comic role. Watching the two of them frolic on stage together is just a damn good time.
Theatergoers are lucky, because there’s another phenomenal show on stage this weekend at The Cell Theatre. Per usual, FUSION Theatre Company has crafted a thoroughly professional and captivating performance, this time with Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, it’s an exercise in adventuresome, tongue-in-cheek prestidigitation.
Richard Hannay (Ross Kelly) is swept into a ’30s British spy hunt by a bob-haired vixen (Jacqueline Reid) who’s guarding a secret. She’s murdered, despite Hannay’s efforts to protect her, and he becomes the primary suspect. Fleeing his home in London to take on her cause, he’s chased, shackled and shot in his quest to keep a man and a plan from leaving the country.
This Hitchcockian romp is carried out by only four actors—Kelly as our charming protagonist Hannay; Reid, who takes on three equally vivacious but otherwise disparate female roles; and Paul Blott and Bruce Holmes, who funnel themselves through what must be a dozen characters with Abbott and Costello-like synergy. All are fantastic and funny and ferociously charismatic.
The staging of this play is beautifully inventive. A pair of ladders act as a bridge, which Kelly gymnastically winds his way through with flourish. A single doorframe is maneuvered to create a labyrinth of passageways. Each movement is a piece in a grand, intricately laid puzzle, and it’s a joy to watch them all click into place. Director Robb Sisneros obviously has a mind for detail.
From a small swing in the rafters to Kelly’s fine pencil mustache, everything about the performance is handled with finesse. This isn’t one to be missed.
Runs through May 19
7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays
The Filling Station
1024 Fourth Street SW
The 39 Steps
Runs through May 8
8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
6 p.m. Sunday
700 First Street NW
Tickets: $30, $25 students and seniors