Our old friends illusion and reality are back in town, popping up in a couple of wildly different one-act plays at the Loeb Ex. One play looks for insights, the other for laughs, and the comedy wins by a wide margin.
Vernal Point, by Geralyn Williams, deals with the occult. Five characters decide to have a seance, and strange things happen. One girl, Mickey, falls into a trance followed by a fit of hysterics. Did what she see in the trance actually occur, or is there some conventional explanation like repressed sexuality? Paula scoffs at the idea that the vision was real. Verna, an insidious looking woman with an East European accent, dares her to offer herself as a victim for some occult event. More strange things happen.
The play follows the path already too well-worn by Rod Serling and friends. The only original moment comes at the very end when an additional plot twist gives us our illusion-reality theme in a slightly different perspective. But by then it's too late. The entire production is bogged down and almost destroyed by being presented as a reading, either because of lack of rehearsal time or because the magical effects were simply too difficult. The actors had trouble acting and reading at the same time, and Maideg Bouchery was simply too Transylvanian to be believed.
The second half of the bill, Robert? by Christopher Durang, is a psychological farce. Jane can't figure out what's going on. Her mother is Edith Fromage, who says she invented cheese. Her brother kisses her mother passionately, only to turn into her father, who in turn becomes her grandfather, who later becomes a French count. Jane's psychologist and his wife change sexes to put more fun in their marriage. At the end of the play Jane is cured, sort of, and the psychologist and his wife (or husband) recite in unison a Freudian explanation of her problem, while the rest of the cast waltzes the Blue Danube.
The best part of the play is Jane's description of a production of Peter Pan she attended as a child (or was it a dream?), in which the alligator is real, and Wendy keeps getting fatter until she has to be helped around, and Tinkerbelle really dies, because the audience doesn't applaud loud enough when Peter Pan asks them to clap to show they believe in fairies. The play asks: is the fairy real? Does Jane believe in fairies? Should she?
Robert?, like Vernal Point, works with rather shop worn material; but at least it gets a lot of laughs out of it. The author also displays the greatest comic gift of all, knowing when to end his play before the audience starts to tire of the joke. The actors are all skillful, especially Caroline Denney as Edith Fromage and Roger Mead as Jane's Protean brother.
Our pals illusion and reality come out of the evening relatively unscathed, and certainly as mysterious as ever. Someday some great play will stop by and solve their quarrel for ever, and then where will playwrights be? Until then you might as well see the double bill at the Loeb Ex. One out of two aren't bad odds, when it's for free.