TECHNICALLY RELATED: Two Variations on Love and FaWorld Premiere plays
Rite of Passage Theatre Company
Directed by Christopher Eastland
UNIT COHESION by Christina Cigala :
David Jeremiah - Cam
Adrian Godinez - Serge
Cassie Bann - Nina
Ariana Cook - Michelle
HARD CANDY CHRISTMAS by Clay Wheeler
Adrian Godinez - Butch
Cassie Bann - Jenny
David Jeremiah - James
Lulu Ward - Maria
Reviewed Performance: 3/5/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Rite of Passage Theatre Company produced two short one act plays as their contribution to the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, continuing through March 13th. Both were world premieres and written by Christina Cigala and Rite of Passage's co-founder and Artistic Director, Clay Wheeler. The plays both dealt with family relationships, for better or worse, and reminded us that through all our differences, the human condition was still the same.
Unit Cohesion by Clay Wheeler centered on a final parent's death and funeral after a long, debilitating illness. We never saw the father but, instead, his two children, one married and one married to her career. Seated at the son's dining table, we also met his wife and the daughter's fianc?. Finishing dinner after the father's funeral, an everyday conversation regressed to the kind of heated argument only siblings would allow from each other. Their familiar words and jabs fueled the flames to come.
Cam, the soldier son, carried some heavy emotional anguish back from his deployment. He was volatile, quick tempered and burdened with guilt on not being home at his mother's passing. Wife, Nina, understandably stressed out by Cam's explosive attacks, still offered gentle healing when he needed it. Michelle, the daughter, had a solid broadcast job and upcoming wedding to Serge, and could not handle her brother's intrusion into her "perfect life" scenario.
Director Christopher Eastland cast four grounded actors for these roles. Each one firmly held his/her space on the stage and never allowed the others to be less than their best. David Jeremiah (Cam) reined in the anger that was already surfacing when the play began. Smart-mouthed and jumpy, Jeremiah simmered in his emotions which made his ultimate blow-up more powerful. Adrian Godinez (Serge) had a smaller role but his Middle European accent was capable.
Ariana Cook (Michelle) played a woman who wanted control over the family situation as she controlled her life. She used verbal banter to see how far she could go with Cam and Cook's power came with both her anger and then willingness to forgive. Having seen Cassie Bann in a completely different role two nights before, I enjoyed her as loving wife, Nina. Her underlying tension and sadness with Cam's outbursts will easy to read on her face and she too held forgiveness with her voice.
Unit Cohesion was a powerful bite of reality plucked out of lives of thousands of families across our country. The need to hold on to what remained in your life when so much around you was gone resonated in this piece as well as the strength it took to love again.
Three of the four actors came back for the second play and we were catapulted from a family who struggled with their love, to a family who clearly didn't love each other and didn't seem to mind.
Hard Candy Christmas by Christina Cigala was set in the lobby of a rehabilitation facility occupied by three siblings who waited for their mother so they could get the Christmas ritual over with. None wanted to be there and used their time to pick on what gift each brought or didn't bring, and anything else to keep from the boredom. Apparently mom had been on drugs and hadn't been much of a parental figure to her sons and daughter. Each was more messed up than the first and made mom look perfectly normal in comparison.
I loved Cassie Bann's smoking, drinking, snorting Jenny, the youngest child who clearly had no desire to be a part of this family. Lulu Ward was humorous as mom Maria as she attempted to stay unstressed with calming affirmations, then gave way to full-on shrieking to be heard over her unruly adult kids.
Another family in crisis ? and yet another family who found inclusion in the simplest of things ? a Christmas carol or an inside joke ? and it was just that moment which rang true in my heart. Through all the dysfunction of every family lay those simple connections that brought them back together, even if only technically. With these two plays and fine casts, Rite of Passage Theatre continued their mission to expose young talent to the professional theatre world.
Rite of Passage Theatre
continues on Sunday, March 6th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 12th at 5pm.