AUTOBAHNby Neil LaBute
Heavenly Muse Players
Part of the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival
Directed by Daniel Foster
Set Design - Jose Quinones
Lighting Design - Linda Blas-
Property Master - Miguel Garcia
Stage Manager - Linda Blas-
Producers - Jonathan Pollei, Maria Zsohar, Daniel Foster
Roger Schwermer - Man
M. Serrano - Other Man
Jonathan Pollei - Man
Delaney Beckman - Girl
Gene Gallerano - Guy
Ali Faulkner - Girl
Cassie Shea Watson - Woman
Daniel Foster - Man
Maria Zsohar - Woman
Jose Quinones - Man
Reviewed Performance: 3/1/2012
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
For a brief period of a little over a week each year, performers from all over the country and around the world descend and fill the three playing spaces with dramas, comedies, dances, cabarets, mimes and one-man shows to satisfy even the pickiest of theatergoers.
The festival kicked off splendidly on Thursday with three diverse shows, one of which I'll review later on this weekend. But that night I decided upon Heavenly Muse Players and their short cycle of plays titled Autobahn by uber writer of dark psychological drama/comedy, Neil LaBute. Written with Mamet or Shepard-like savagery, LaBute's five brief vignettes each took place in the front seat of a car. He stated, "Cars, like most everything else, have been used as covert love nests, battlegrounds, or places of refuge in the past."
Most of the stories dealt with a dramatic or traumatic situation discussed, dissected, exposed or inexplicably altered once within the confines of that space between the driver and passenger doors.
The first vignette, Long Division, however, slowly revealed that not all car seat situations need lead to pathos. Driving on an ordinary urban street at night, Roger Schwermer, in an almost continuous monologue, assured, assuaged, and comically rallied around his passenger buddy's attempt to retrieve a certain game console from his ex-girlfriend. Schwermer pumped up his friend's simmering anger to get a reaction out of him. M. Serrano, as the quietly seething one, uttered only one directional line, but it was enough for the driver to turn around and ride off for glory and victory. Car transformed into Braveheart's steed.
While the first easily identified as comedy, the second vignette, Road Trip, started off lightly, then ever so slowly dissolved into one situation, then another, and another. Each sentence uttered by the two passengers, a middle age man and an early high school student, led to another thought, another question in trying to solve the puzzle of their relationship. Ideas and guesses shifted again and again, with more and more revelations one might wish weren't true. Driving on a tree-lined, secluded country road, intent and innocence swirled together in that car's atmosphere. Delaney Beckman played the high school sophomore on several subtle levels of adventure, allure, longing and naivete. Aggressive, but equally as subtle in his dealings with the girl, Jonathan Pollei mixed the driver's longing spectacularly with fear, strict childhood resentment, and desire. Pollei's tear-filled weary eyes held moments of sympathy in the midst of an unsympathetic and chilling scenario. Vehicle cloaked as an imprisonment hole.
A large city's hilltop "Lovers Lane" was the setting for Bench Seat, but there wasn't a whole lot of making out going on. High comedic talent, Ali Faulkner, played one messed up, bipolar, dumped on-before girl who now has been a dating college teaching assistant played by the droll but equally comedic Gene Gallerano. His true intent soon became clear, driving up to that famous lookout, but was thwarted but the almost non-stop neurotic ranting of his girlfriend, who proudly reveled in listing the things she had done to her last guy. Flipping rapidly back and forth between laughter and uneasy shifting in seats, there was a telling energy from the audience who didn't really want to witness the sh** that was about to hit the proverbial fan. Sports coupe miraged as sticky tar pit.
It was on to Merge, atop a major highway clover leaf, and a cosmopolitan young couple going home from the airport. The woman, portrayed by Cassie Shea Watson, was returning from a convention, made up, it seems, predominately by men, and her husband, Daniel Foster, who noticed and felt something wasn't all together right with his wife. A dubious story systematically emerged about a dark hotel room, "all those two men" and . . . . ! While Watson was the epitome of "celebrity" denial, hiding behind her Foster Grants, Daniel Foster was the ever perplexed, hysterical husband with a penchant for correct grammar whose final understanding of their conversation came just a tad too late. Both actors held the scene's comedy and tension at just the right simmering point. Luxury sedan dissolved into confessional booth.
The final play, Autobahn, was driven fast and furious, red and white car lights blurred on the highway. An angry and accusatory wife, played by Maria Zsohar, ranted and raged about their predicament with a son in the foster care system, while her saddened, teary-eyed husband drove away and on in silence. Being Zsohar's vignette to control, she moved through all the emotions a parent of a child, who had miserably failed them, would express outrage, un-acceptance, self-preservation, denial. But amidst all her emotional upheaval, my eyes kept glancing back to the husband played by Jose Quinones. His quiet stare on the long road ahead and look of utter defeat was so heart-wrenching. In this instance, less was so much more. Automobile upturned and on the side of the road.
Director Daniel Foster cast perfect choices for these ten motor car passengers. As the set consisted of car seats, bucket or bench, there was nothing for the actors to hide behind. Every little movement and eye expression revealed character evolution. Minimal set and closeness to the audience also revealed a few small glitches.
Foster, as husband, left his wedding ring at home, and several of the drivers took their eyes off the road too long for my liking, making my stomach queasy at the possibility of an accident. I also thought the use of seat belts would have further confined the characters within their situations.
But that's a good thing really. We're a car nation - we know what it's like to be either the driver or the passenger in that kind of enclosure. To be that involved in each character's "well being", in each of their stories, is the mark of good direction, great acting and a cycle of plays that each hold your attention. As Germany's super highway has no speed limits, LaBute's Autobahn sets no limits on the emotional apprehensions sometimes set behind a steering wheel.
Heavenly Muse Players
Part of the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival
WaterTower Theatre-Addison Conference and Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Very limited run for Autobahn ? Saturday, March 3rd at 5:00 pm, Sunday, March
4th at 2:00 pm, and Saturday, March 10th at 5:00 pm.
Out of the Loop Fringe Festival runs March 1st through March 11th.
Tickets for all festival performances are $10 or $15 for festival headliners.
Festival passes are $65 for admittance