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Friday, January 14, 2011
This Ain't Your Dad's AGL
The play was intriguing and little edgy. Some language. No nudity. The audience did not look familiar. This is an AGL production. But, where was I? Almost out in the country, almost in a different county. As kids we rode our bikes out here to visit the old gas station get an Ale 8 and work our way over to the airport. Now it is a Ramsey’s restaurant with a strip mall almost full with local shops and services. The space is shiny and new with some remnants of venues past. It wasn’t dingy and dirty like most AGL venues. The dark and dank cavern of Levas’ restaurant. The crampiness of LMNOP. The locker room feel of ArtsPlace. The labyrinth of Short Street. The sterile feel of the DAC. Even the DAC made me feel dirty. But it was AGL and in a weird way I was glad to see them back.
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” tells the story of the death of a man at a café. But his cell phone rings. Only a few times. The woman at the next table, Jean (Hayley Williams), picks up the cell phone immediately and ends up stuck in the middle of all his troubles, meeting his widow Hermia (Sharon Sikorski), his mother Mrs. Gottlieb (Missy Johnston), and his mistress (Schann Mobley). In the course of meeting all these people, she ends up falling in love with the dead man’s brother, Dwight (Bob Singleton). The dead man himself, Gordon Gottlieb (Tom Phillips), eventually tells his last moments.
This is an enjoyable night of theatre. Unfortunately, the second act falls short of living up to the promise of the first act. It begins well enough with a terrific monologue from Tom Phillips. But then the playwright turns the play into a metaphysical farce that doesn’t mesh with Act I. What began as a potentially witty comedy about love, death and socially invasive inventions like cell phones cries out for a stronger ending and not a rush to the finish.
Tom Phillips' attention to character delivers a strong monologue that fills in the gaps about his death and the quirky girl that has taken charge of his passed life. But Hayley Williams can not deliver past quirky. The process of creating layers and playing with character dimensions was not there. It came to easy to play one dimension and stay at that point. Missy Johnston’s performance was in tight control with an over the top character. Again experience and listening go a long way on the stage. For example, Bob Singleton’s subtle and humble performance as the forgotten son, brother and lover. He owns this role and plays it with great intentions. Schann Mobley and Sharon Sikorski also give confident performances but Ms. Sikorski had the privilege of playing a scene drunk. Nice job, but let's talk.
Opening night at a new venue, with new staff, a new mission and with new production problems were expected. Cues and levels will get worked out. Mostly it ran pretty smooth so far as the "normal" audience member would detect. Scene changes are an art form in them self. Cheers to the ensemble for soundly playing the Greek chorus parts. Choice of music, effects and volume provide a good distraction during these odd moments where we have to change the scenery. If the audience didn't applaud the scene before, maybe they'll talk during the scene change. Lights! The designer put the limited number of lights on the stage for a reason. Move six inches and find it! Unless for some dramatic reason, why would you stand in darkness while delivering lines and participating in a play? I'm sure more lighting equipment is in a future budget. Plus, I would invest in a better house lights system very soon. The confetti love gun made my jaw drop. And, pay attention to the HVAC. It is part of the building and part of our experience.
I wish AGL all the best in their next chapter. Eric Seale, current Artistic Director, gave an appropriate thanks to all those who had served before him. But there were so many more before them. A small band of community and college kids that wanted to produce engaging theatre like Lexington had never seen without going out of town. My thanks to Michael Grice who started us to think and dream, then to Barry Williams, Carol Spence, Martha Bernier, Deborah Martin and again especially Vic Chaney and countless others who created the community of AGL. We did good stuff back then and we need to ensure and help this AGL to make its' imprint again in Lexington and then beyond.