The Column Online



by Bruce Coleman

Our Productions Theatre Co.

Directed by Bruce Coleman
Scenic and Sound Design by Scott Kirkham
Lighting Design by Julie Nicole Simmons
Costume Design by Bruce R. Coleman

Barry -- Billy Betsill
Kevin -- Nick Hill
Paco – Edward Treminio
Myrna – LisaAnne Haram
Lois – Kim Borge Swarner
Kyle – Jacob Lewis
Carlos – Rafael Villegas
Franklin – Mikey Abrams

Reviewed Performance: 10/19/2017

Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

If you have ever enjoyed Bruce Coleman’s Tales from Late Night Kroger on Facebook (tflnk), or seen productions of any of his plays, you know that he has a keen ear for dialogue and a perceptive eye for character. His stories are funny, poignant, sometime disturbing, and always insightful. It will come as no surprise then, that his new play, HAUNTED, given its world premiere by Our Productions Theatre Company, displays the same attributes.

Coleman calls the play a “mystery wrapped in a ghost story,” and it is the tale of a young man named Barry, who has been “living in the shadow of his parents’ murder for thirty years.” The first incarnation of the story was as a screenplay. Press releases tell us that over a three year period the format and some of the script changed, but the central mystery remained the same. Our Productions new Play Readers Club decided to produce the play based on the positive reactions of their board and patrons present at a reading.

In the central role of Barry, searching for answers to his parent’s murder, is Billy Betsill. Mr. Betsill attacks his role with conviction, using a slightly distracted air for his character as he delves into the mysteries of the past. He may want to try to find alternate approaches to moments of high stress other than raising his voice, but the scene with his mother’s ghost is lovely. All the love and yearning for a lost connection is there in Mr. Betsill’s eyes, voice and demeanor. It’s a really nice scene.

Kevin, Barry’s partner, is played by Nick Hill with quiet strength and support. His affection and devotion are evident even as he struggles with Barry to come to grips with his past. A positive aspect of the script is that the central couple is gay, but that doesn’t drive the story, it only informs it.

Kim Swarner and Jacob Lewis are Lois and Kyle, Barry’s parents in the flashbacks to 1962. Mr. Lewis is playing the part of a young politician running for office, and he certainly has the youthful JFK look going for him. Ms. Swarner personifies the pert, perfect politician’s wife of the period. Both parts seem a little underwritten at this point leading the audience to struggle a bit with understanding motives and actions. I’m not sure what the answer is, and perhaps a little more subtext from both performers would help amplify the couple.

LisaAnne Haram has a wonderful time playing Myrna Dupont, the “evangelical psychic of dubious talents.” The character serves as the play’s comic relief and enabling center. Ms. Haram, dressed in Mr. Coleman’s eccentric outfits, delivers her lines with deft comic timing and lands each one. (She physically reminded me of Leslie Jordan at times, which only added to my enjoyment.) I’m not sure that the evangelical aspect of the character is utilized enough at this point, and somehow seems at odds with some of the character’s lines and actions. An interesting take might be a sincere fundamentalist caught up by her psychic abilities and struggling to come to grips with them. This, of course, would mean a complete re-writing of the character and a lot of the humor might be lost, but it could be even more interesting and unexpected.

Edward Treminio is Paco and Rafael Villegas is Carlos, the hotel bellmen in 1990 and 1962 respectively. Mr. Treminio has the most stage time, and strikes us with his complete focus and absorption in what is happening around him on stage. He is never less than present every moment, and his quick and cogent delivery are a delight. Mr. Villegas has a smaller but pivotal role, and he carries it off with complete professionalism.

Mikey Abrams has a great good time playing the LBJ-ish character of Frank Midland. Loud, obnoxious, oblivious to his racist behavior and, striding about the stage sporting Stetson and boots with innate authority, he creates an unforgettable character with very little stage time.

In the three-quarter-surround/thrust space, Scott Kirkham has designed a sparse but effective environment depicting the penthouse of the La Hacienda Hotel in Austin, circa 1990 and 1962. His design consists of four realistic back wall panels, one containing a detailed hotel door, one a large window with drapes, another an arch leading to a bedroom, and the fourth the door to a bathroom. I really like the design and feel it works better for the spirit of the play than a solid back wall would do. The four separate panels somehow communicate the show’s past and present in a disjointed way that adds to the unease of the situation and the search for putting the pieces together. Mr. Kirkham also designs the sound and serves as production stage manager.

Lighting is by Julie Simmons, and she manages to make the time shifts work with color and intensity changes and the effective use of practical lamps. Strong shafts of light through doorways go a long way to adding to the dramatic effect. Bruce R. Coleman also does the costume design for the show, and as usual, his designs manage to communicate time and place and illuminate the personalities of the players.

Mr. Coleman’s designer eye serves him well as a director in creating stage pictures that expand the dialogue and keep the focus where needed. He sets a good, tight pace from the very beginning, and this keeps the story crackling throughout. The opening exposition doesn’t come across as contrived, and scenes build nicely. The actors have been coached in ways that reveal character and relationships and make the progression of events inevitable.

Coleman is an award winning playwright with more than a dozen scripts produced in the area with upcoming productions of his work scheduled for Collin College Theatre and Abilene Live Theatre. He also, of course, directs, designs costumes and scenery and acts. This total immersion in all aspects of theater gives Mr. Coleman a unique insight into how scripts work, what will hold an audience’s attention, and what won’t. All of this is evident in his script for Haunted and it works very well. Mr. Coleman says that this kind of genre writing is a departure for him, but hopefully he’ll continue to expand and experiment.

While writing about a mystery story without giving away too much presents problems, the first transition from 1990 to 1962 seems a little abrupt with the main character suddenly dozing as he sits on the sofa, but the other time transitions and mingling of past and present work really well and make the show exciting to watch. The final speech by Mr. Betsill as Barry ties things up nicely and reveals his acceptance, but somehow feels a little tacked on, or off in some way. Surely this can be incorporated better or worked out in continued tweaking of the script.

The mystery in Haunted may get the audience hooked, but it takes interesting characters and a knowledge of structure and how to build scenes and tell the story through action and not just words. “Show, don’t tell.” That Mr. Coleman has managed to do all this and do it well makes one hope for another production of Haunted with more performances to give an even wider audience a chance to experience this tight, tense thriller. Thanks to Our Productions Theatre Company for presenting the world premiere of this exciting new script.

Our Productions Theatre Co.

MCL Grand, Black Box Space
100 North Charles Street
Lewisville, TX 75027

Show Dates: Thursday, October 26th
Through Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Single tickets $25 with a $5 discount for seniors and students
General Admission
Box Office: 972-724-2174