ART & SCIENCEby James Wesley
Director – Jason St. Little
Set Designer – Dennis Canright
Lighting Designer – Kaitlin Forsman
Costume Designer – Suzi Cranford
Sound Designer – Jeff Rane
Properties Designer – Becca Lynch
Stage Manager – Adam Nick Hill
Robert – David Benn
Adam – Christopher Cassarino
Photo Credit: Mike Morgan
Reviewed Performance: 6/1/2014
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Robert is an aging music teacher who is visited at his apartment by his student Adam, vacationing for a week in Los Angeles. They haven’t seen each other in eight years. During their second visit, Adam walks into the apartment to discover that Robert has had a stroke. Since Robert is a Christian Scientist he refuses medical help. The rest of the play finds Adam becoming a sudden care giver to Adam. While the plot seems deceptively simple, it is not. What holds the audiences’ attention, and piques our curiosity is why Adam feels compelled to stay with Robert. The play is a series of revelations, some quite unexpected.
In order for this play to work it needs two powerhouse actors, and Director Jason St. Little found them in David Benn as Robert and Christopher Cassarino as Adam. Both men play well off each other and make the dialogue come to life. A wide range of topics is touched upon from ice cream to the tenants of Christian Science. And even though the play has sparkling dialogue and great one-liners, it is the character development that captures the imagination and eventually pulls at the heartstrings. Art & Science is a play that will make you laugh, enrage you, and make you cry. And it is all due to the seamless combination of a strong script, superb actors and sensitive direction.
David Been, as the music teacher Robert, spends most of the time in sitting due to his illness. Physically, he has to maintain an uncomfortable posture throughout the entire play, and his pain is convincing. He must deliver his performance and express a wide range of emotions with his voice. Since the use of his body is limited his facial expressions must carry the weight of his acting. His character runs the full gamut of human emotions which play on his face with beautiful subtlety and are matched by his expressive vocal tones. Exceptional.
Christopher Cassarino plays student Adam and embodies his character completely. Even though Adam no longer lives in Southern California, his mannerisms are very much of a Los Angelino. His distress over Robert is palpable. Adam is a wanna-be musical theatre actor and he captures the joys and frustrations many a performer has in pursuing such a difficult career. Cassarino is making his theatre debut in this production, and to say he is sensational would be an understatement. The only flaw in his performance is in his volume level. When he would get closer to Benn his volume would drop, but fortunately the theatre venue is an intimate space so hearing him during his softer moments wasn’t difficult.
The production side of the play is top notch. Dennis Canright built a believable apartment, fully furnished with a working microwave and freezer. The small space adds to the ambiance of a real living room. Even though the play takes place in 1996, it is obvious by the eclectic décor that Robert had been living in that apartment since the 1970’s with the variety of knick knacks and stuff people accumulate in one’s home after living in a space for so long.
Kaitlin Forsman’s lighting design is inspired. The apartment has various areas with a recessed kitchen. In the real world, lighting isn’t perfectly even in an apartment. Frequently corners are darker, the light is brighter near windows, corners that have no lamps are darker. etc. Forsman properly illuminates the entire stage yet keeps the feel of the inconsistencies of light that occur in every home.
Suzi Cranford’s costumes nicely capture the personality of the characters. Adam’s various pullover polo shirts are very typical of gay men in the 1990’s in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Robert’s sweat pants and pullovers are appropriate for a man that would have difficulty dressing himself.
Jeff Rane’s music selections which accompany the scene changes are inspired. At times they serve as commentary to the prior scene or a foreshadowing of what’s to come. The music not only set the mood but was integral to the story.
Art & Science is making its premiere in Dallas. It had been work shopped in New York, and the hope is that it will have an off-Broadway run. Producer Jeff Rane invited the audience to send feedback after the performance. My only suggestions are these: It belongs on Broadway not off-Broadway, and keep the same cast and production team. Yes, the play is that good.
Frank’s Place, upstairs at the Kalita Humphries Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd
Dallas, TX 75219
Running through June 16th
Friday - Saturday at 7:45 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $18.00 each.
For tickets and information, call 214-219-2718 or go to www.uptownplayers.org