Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

Theatre Uncut
By: Victor Gluck
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Gia Crovatin and Victor Slezak in a scene from Neil LaBute’s
“In the Beginning,” part of Theatre Uncut
(Photo credit: Allison Stock)

Theatre Uncut began in the United Kingdom in October 2010 when the Coalition government announced the worst cuts to public spending since World War II. In 2012, Theatre Uncut invited playwrights from Greece, Syria, Spain, the United States, Iceland and the U.K. to write short dramatic responses to the “political and economic challenges facing their own countries.” Premiering at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, the plays won the Fringe First, Herald Angel and Spirit of the Fringe Awards. Since then, the plays have been performed in various combinations by 250 groups in 17 countries across four continents. Sponsored by the “Best of Edinburgh” Festival and Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, the New York cast of U.S. based actors have donated their time for the seven performance run at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row and talk backs after each performance asked audience members to share their thoughts after seeing the plays.

The NY production offered six plays by writers from Argentina, Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States, staged by three alternating directors. The problem with issue-based plays (as Bertolt Brecht could have told you) is that the work runs the risk of turning into agit-prop rather than fully developed theater, with the message overwhelming the dramaturgy. Unfortunately, although each of the NY plays received an excellent (though minimalist) staging, only one of the plays was an example of real theater, Neil LaBute’s “In the Beginning,” another memorable one act from this prolific playwright. Each of the plays was preceded by a piece of information projected on a screen as to the problem or issue that inspired the author. Regrettably, most of these undercut the punch lines of the plays the audience was about to see. It might have been better to let the plays speak for themselves and then show the news items after each play.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, “In the Beginning” was an encounter by a spoiled rich girl who has come home briefly from the Manhattan protest in order to get her father to fund her trip to Iceland for the next occupation. Now she needs to borrow her father’s Mercedes in order to get back to her friends in New York. Tactlessly, she had insulted her father once too often and he is stonewalling her requests for his help. The ironic ending was a coup de theatre from this provocative playwright. Under the astute direction of Emily Reutlinger, Gia Crovatin and Victor Slezak’s finely tuned performances were certain to have the audience rooting for one or the other in this clever battle of wills.

“Fragile” by Scotland’s David Greig (Midsummer [A Play With Song] at the Clurman last month, The Creditors at BAM in 2010) made a very unusual choice which may just be a first. In order to hit home the idea of budget cuts, the author had asked that the second character, Caroline, a middle-aged social worker, be played by the audience in unison reading her words from the large screen on the back wall. Brian Hastert was excellent as Jack, a fragile young man, motivated to take action when his mental health support clinic is to be closed by confronting his lifeline, that is, his social worker, in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, as director Catrin Evans had obviously not rehearsed the audience in its lines previous to the performance, is difficult to know the emotional effect of the play if a professional actress had been part of the production.

Jessika Williams and Ali Ewoldt in a scene from Anders Lustgarten’s
“The Breakout,” part of Theatre Uncut
(Photo credit: Allison Stock)

Although the name of Anders Lustgarten, author of “The Breakout,” suggests Scandinavia, he is, in fact, from the United Kingdom. In this futuristic play, two women, the neurotic and fearful Lou (Ali Ewoldt) and the adventurous and rebellious Ama (Jessika Williams), find that one wall of their prison cell has fallen away, giving them both a view of a beautiful world beyond and a chance to escape. However, Lou refuses to leave as their prison life where all their needs are met all she has ever known. While the two actresses immediately established their opposite points of view under Reutlinger’s taut direction, the play seemed long at ten minutes as the ending whether to go or not was all that was under discussion for its duration.

From Greece, Lena Kitsopoulou’s “The Price” was an amusing take on the problem of runaway inflation. A husband and wife are on line at a supermarket checkout counter where they are arguing about choosing from the abandoned children being sold at the store. The husband complains that the ones that are in perfect condition will cost too much and take away from their other grocery needs while the wife thinks a deformed child which is cheaper will not bring them as much joy. While Carter Gill and Shannon Sullivan registered all of their laugh lines, the play was really a one-joke plot that director Cressida Brown could not enhance.

Tyler Moss in Marco Canale’s “The Birth of My
Violence,” part of Theatre Uncut

Two of the plays were monologues, “Spine” by the United Kingdom’s Clara Brennan and “The Birth of My Violence” by Argentina’s Marco Canale. In “Spine,” Robyn Kerr played a young woman with little future whose local library has closed. When she comes in contact with an elderly eccentric lady while searching for an affordable room, she discovers that the old lady is one of several local residents who have saved the books from destruction when the building closed. Although Kerr’s accent was often too thick to quite catch her meaning, the play directed by Brown had a thrilling, spine-tingling moment when the young woman discovers the wonder of reading.

Adapted and translated by Roberto Cavazos, Canale’s “The Birth of My Violence” takes place in a Madrid under siege and in the throes of a revolution due to disastrous economic conditions. Tyler Moss played a writer who has helped film the disturbances and has now written a play of what happened. Although Brown’s direction was commanding, the play never rose above the level of agit-prop, leaving the audience on the outside.

An ambitious and noteworthy project, Theatre Uncut, an evening of six issue-based international one-acts, ran the risk of being nothing more than political propaganda. Regrettably, most of the plays neither developed their themes nor ascended above the level of their anger, though all were given excellent minimalist productions by their directors, Cressida Brown, Catrin Evans and Emily Reutlinger.

Theatre Uncut (January 29 – February 3, 2013)
The Clurman Theatre @Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com

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