Tom Newton sounds a lot like the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. He welcomes us to the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club, in Connecticut. With a down-home, folksy voice he says his community theater will present an evening based on the theme of “love.”
It’s the spring of 1962, and even in a village where things change “about as quickly as the rules of chess,” love is in the air.
“The stories are true,” says Newton, “whether they ever happened is up to you.”
Playwright Aaron Posner adapted three stories from the writings of Kurt Vonnegut. They don’t offer the unleashed fury of Slaughterhouse Five, the book he was born to write about the fire-bombing of Dresden; or the make-you-feel-dinky Sirens of Titan (the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, the pyramids — just messages to a Tralfamadorian robot stranded for 200 millennia on Jupiter’s moon).
The stories, from Welcome to the Monkey House, are a mite cozy and remarkably upbeat for the often grim ironist whose motto is “so it goes” (as in, “Dr. Martin Luther King was shot last night. So it goes”).
The play touches on various phases of love’s zodiac, from an unspoken adoration suddenly announced, to shy actors unable to emote when not acting, to the epic break-up of the “reigning queen of the Silver Screen” and her fourth husband George (Gregory North), a screenwriter with a thirst for strong drink.
A thread connects the tales: Tom (an engaging James Leaming) alludes to his marriage and to wife Kate (versatile Cynthia Marty), whom he takes a mite for granted. The audience pays their relationship no attention until Tom’s vision of a goddess dwindles — and almost his marriage to boot.
The North Coast Rep’s offering an always entertaining, if undemanding, evening of theater.
Much of the play is about acting. Many in the cast play multiple roles. At times they “perform”; they do a line or a scene badly, by design. The stories might not be complicated, and conclude with sitcom simplicity. But the shifts from one level of acting to another gives the piece ongoing interest.
Rosina Reynolds, for example, plays Doris, a crabby theater director, and Gloria Hilton, Hollywood staaah — both extreme, both fun.
Jason Maddy and Christina Flynn have the juiciest scene. “Who Am I This Time” (originally published in the Saturday Evening Post) tells a Jekyll/Hyde yarn about Harry and Helene. In daily life they’re profoundly shy. When on-stage, as Stanley and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, their electricity could illumine North Crawford — maybe the south-side too.
In an early speech, Tom talks about theatrical illusions. By calling attention to their work, the speech places an onus on designers Sonia Elizabeth Lerner (costumes), Chris Luessmann (sound), and Matt Novotny (lighting), though they don’t seem to mind at all.
From the rustic floorboards to its few, well-chosen props — including a door without a wall and a stairway leading nowhere — Marty Burnett’s set is at once functional and teasingly abstract, much like Vonnegut’s prose.