ARTIFICEBy Anne Flanagan
Directed by Penny Elaine
Stage Manager – Karina Barrett
Set Designer – Eddy Herring
Master Carpenter – Kyle Chinn
Costume Designer – Heather Walker Shin
Lighting Designer – Kenneth Hall
Sound Designer – Penny Elaine
Properties Designer – Jessi Morris
Light and Sound Board Operator – Kenneth Hall
Maggie La Rue – Heather Walker Shin
Richard – Jordon Pokladnik
Graciela – Samantha Potrykus
Trent Matlock – Bennett Frohock
Judith Fontaine – Sue Goodner
Mick Fitzgerald – Kenneth Fulenwider
Emma – Laura Jennings
Payne Showers – Christian R. Black
Reviewed Performance: 6/11/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Playwright Anne Flanagan has provided all the appropriate details for proceedings of this kind. Artist Payne Showers (Christian R. Black) has died in an avalanche while climbing in the Himalayas, causing the prices for his paintings to skyrocket. His estranged wife, Maggie La Rue (Heather Walker Shin), desperately wants to sell the artwork to cover all the debts Payne left behind and to save her art gallery. With the help of her gallery assistant, Richard (Jordon Poladnik), she arranges to have a private showing at her secluded farmhouse in upstate New York in the dead of winter during an approaching snowstorm. What could possibly go wrong, right?
One guest is newspaper columnist Judith Fontaine (Sue Goodner), present under the false impression she is there to help Maggie with her unknown, non-existent addiction and, to write an article about the impending art sale. Also invited is real estate mogul and rumored brutal mobster Mick Fitzgerald (Kenneth Fulenwider), who plans to put Payne’s paintings in all his hotels. Add to this mix the sexy and street-smart bartender/maid Graciela (Samantha Potrykus), a brooding art expert with a Ph.D. there to evaluate the paintings named Emma (Laura Jennings), and Maggie’s self-obsessed and naive actor boyfriend, Trent Matlock (Bennett Frohock), and we are ready to begin. Then into all these walks…
You get the idea. Nothing goes as planned. Everyone is snowed in together. Lie piles on top of lie. False identities have been taken. Past and present relationships are thrown into turmoil. People assume the worst will happen and run around the set and slam doors as if their lives depend on it. And director Penny Elaine has choreographed all this stage-bound calamity with precision. Except for one small part that dragged near the end of the play, the pace and timing of the cast were spot on.
The arena for all this madness is the wonderful five-entrance set designed by Eddy Herring. It only has two actual doors, but I will grant a pass on that. The area gives ample room for the actors to race through it. The costumes by Heather Walker Shin instantly identify the types of characters we are watching. Whether it is the up-scale suit worn by the fussy Richard, to the sexy house cleaner costume for the savvy Graciela, to the wealthy matron attire for Judith Fontaine, we get a sense of who they are and how they will react simply by looking at them. I must also extend special credit for the wonderful robe worn by Mick Fitzgerald in one scene. It was incongruent with his character, but Kenneth Fulenwider pulled it off with aplomb.
Like Mr. Fulenwider, all the actors are completely committed to the material. Heather Walker Shin is appealing as Maggie La Rue. She easily moves from manic anxiety to touching vulnerability. Her scenes with Christian R. Black, her husband (Payne Showers), who has returned from the dead (I’m not spoiling anything. His return is noted in the program), have a poignant reality to them. And speaking of Mr. Black, I have never had the opportunity to see him before and he has a very appealing stage presence and good comic timing.
Playing Maggie’s assistant Richard, Jordon Poladnik throws himself into the role. Fueled by the possibility of unemployment and of wearing a polyester uniform, Richard flies from scheme to scheme to make sure the art sale takes place. Mr. Poladnik embodies Richard’s desperation perfectly. Sue Goodner gives an imperious air to the character of Judith Fontaine, making her likable, with just a touch of a dangerous edge. You certainly would not want to lie to or offend her. As the real estate tycoon with possible mob connections, Kenneth Fulenwider is great. His Mick bursts with energy and the gleam in his eye and the smile on his face as he talks about murder are as frightening as it is hilarious.
With her New York City accent and her winning smile, Samantha Potrykus has lots of fun with the delightful role of Graciela. Her slightly ditzy manner masks her ability to come to the rescue when necessary. Laura Jennings has the proper arrogant attitude as an art scholar. Could it be possible that she is concealing a secret? Trent Matlock, Maggie’s noticeably young boyfriend, is called a puppy dog in the play and Bennett Frohock is the epitome of that. Convinced of his good looks and talent as an actor and completely unaware of his cluelessness, Mr. Frohock makes Trent an enjoyable comic foil.
I must make a confession at this point. I did not connect with the play for some reason. I was aware of the talent of the cast and laughed at some sections but just did not experience the wholehearted response that my wife, Alice, and the rest of the audience had. Everyone else in the house had a wonderful time and I did enjoy watching some incredibly good actors have fun onstage. So, having long ago abandoned the idea of the infallibility of drama critics, I am going to ignore my feelings (whatever they were and wherever they came from) and side with the audience’s opinion. “Artifice” is a hilarious night out at the theater.
Since the people have spoken, I suggest you pay a visit to Rover Dramawerks at the Cox Theatre and just have fun with “Artifice.” You’ll be glad you did.
Playing through June 29, 2022
Thursday – Saturday – 8:00PM, Saturday Matinee – 3:00PM
The Cox Theatre, 1517 H Ave, Plano, TX 75074
For Tickets or more information call 972-849-0358 or visit www.roverdramawerks.com