SEVEN'S A CROWD
by Jon Christie
Triple J Productions
Director- Jon Christie
Stage Manager/Assistant Director- Ana Diaz
Lighting Designer- Joe Nagel
Set Designer/Sound Designer- Josh Jacobs
Assistant Sound Designer- Dalton Tindall
Costume Designer- Jon Christie, Monnika Young
Assistant Stage Manager/Props Master- Micah John Collin
Box Office Manager- Monnika Young
Box Office Assistant- Mark Crotzer
Dan- Sri Chilukuri
Mom- Holly Nuckels
Mike- Josh Jacobs
Sloth- Jake Shanahan
Glutt0ny- Mark Quach
Envy- Cherami Leigh
Greed- Richard Sharkey
Amy- Rachel Brownjohn
Lusts- Amanda Carson Green
Wrath- Jacob Valle
Reviewed Performance 8/7/2011
Reviewed by Laura L. Watson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
With the above cast list and the tag line "You think one sin is bad? Wait `till you meet the whole family!" I knew I was in for a night of outside the box, thought provoking and laugh out loud entertainment. Though Triple J Production's SEVEN'S A CROWD did deliver as I hoped, it wasn't without its pitfalls and shortcomings common to young theatre companies.
"When college drop-out Dan discovers a stranger sleeping in his room, he is determined to get rid of him. But before long, the stranger's whole family moves in and they waste little time exuding their influence on the poor mortal's life. A comedic look at the seven deadly sins that encourages you to not waste life, to never quit, and to tell annoying house pests to get the hell out!" (taken from Triple J Productions' promotional material). As the sins bicker amongst each other, as dysfunctional families will do, Dan tries to tune them out and really listen to Amy, deal with his brother Mike, and oblige his Mom as he is the only mortal in the room that can see and hear them.
The Addison Conference and Theatre Center's small black box theatre is an apt venue for this new company's second season. Seating only about 50 in the audience makes for an intimate evening. The entire play takes place in Dan's bedroom- a room he spends entirely too much time in. He not only sleeps, showers, and dresses in there; he also eats, watches movies with his girlfriend, enjoys too many anime internet sites, and generally tries to hide from the world. As a result, his room is full of trash and dirty clothes, and anime posters line the walls. I had to resist the urge to "tidy up" during intermission.
Shortly after the establishing the first scene with Dan (Sri Chilukuri) and Mom (Holly Nuckels) we see the room is also inhabited by Sloth, the sin of laziness, which is well played by Jake Shanahan. Chilukuri is intense and maintains his focus, complete with more than 20 minutes of "surfing the internet" in the preshow as the audience enters. However he at times becomes tongue tied and falls into a common trap for young actors - what to do with my hands. His arms become glued by his side and gestures could at times be stiff and robotic. Nuckels, as the understanding and one could argue enabling mother, is soften spoken, kind and clear with her intents.
When needed, her character shows an intriguing and believable arc as she is on her own journey and is trying to get her son to live up to his potential. The only downfall to her performance is that she is simply not old enough to be the mom of a 22 year old college student. She looks barely old enough to be the mom of an elementary student. Some simple makeup special effects are all that is needed. Nothing drastic such as grey hair or "an old lady walk", she just needs to transform into a middle aged woman instead of a young college student. Shanahan, though exuding an air of nonchalance and semi-exhaustion, still has intense energy and drives his scenes with Dan.
Josh Jacobs (one of the J's in Triple J Productions) plays Dan's older brother Mike. He's an arrogant and demanding big brother who picks on Dan. Jacobs is extremely stiff in his line delivery and not believable but he has some of the best one liners of the show (Some of his lines, though, will need to be updated with every production of this script as some are so culturally current they will be lost on future audiences).
After Sloth makes contact with Dan, Gluttony arrives, and is played over the top by Mark Quach. He is hilarious but his character's humor is, well, teenage boy bathroom humor- complete with belching and farts. However, Quach's total commitment to becoming Gluttony in voice, facial expression and movement makes him a joy to watch. And yes, I laughed even when the girl in me wanted to say "Gross! Grow up!" (He was the favorite of my male theatre companion). Pride is the militaristic, order barking father of this sin family, and is played to full force by Fabian Lopez. The only time Lopez comes out of his drill sergeant routine is in a few sensual moments with his wife, Lust in Act II.
My ear drums could have used a few more less intense moments. Stealing the show in acting abilities is Cherami Leigh as Envy, the youngest sin of the family who simply demands to have everything everyone else does, and annoys anyone into hell if they fail to oblige. Her vocal variations are impressive and she matches them with equally hilarious yet believable facial expressions. She finds the levels within her spoiled brat character type and maximizes every line AND reaction to others' lines to their full comedic timing potential.
At the insistence of Envy, Uncle G arrives to stop people from being mean to her. My theatre companion and I both assumed he was Wrath (despite the name) because of his snarky and biting comments and hate-filled dialogue with every character- family or not. We were corrected when we closer inspected the actors' bios which included pictures during intermission. Though he well performs a variety of mafia-like impressions, Richard Sharkey's Greed is just too wrathful and not slimy enough to allure anyone to the riches with which Greed tempts people. In short, he is amusing and commands the stage, but he isn't believable as Greed.
At the end of Act I, Dan's sweet, kind hearted girlfriend Amy (Rachel Brownjohn) arrives, with Lust right on her heels. Brownjohn is perfectly cast as a preschool teacher who thinks Dan is sweet but her patience is wearing thin. As he starts to put the moves on her she reacts that she's just not ready. Lust, the mother of the family, is played to a boiling point by Amanda Carson Green and she's working on Dan, not Amy. I have not seen Mrs. Carson Green on the stage since we attended college together, but she has always been a striking beauty with expressive eyes. In her red satin gown, she is reminiscent of a 1940's pinup model. She is my companion's other favorite.
Unfortunately, her lines are predictable and her blocking and movement expected. She fulfills the typical Lust role to a T but I know, if given the chance, she can throw a surprise curveball to the audience. Audiences like unexpected surprises but this is reserved for Jacob Valle's Wrath. He's the puny cousin to the family, and technically he's Wrath, Jr. However, when he sees that Amy is upset, he becomes unleashed. With a surprising vocal range and a comedic flourish beyond his years, Valle's contrast to the usual stereotype of wrath is exactly what is needed at this point in the story, down to using an inhaler after arriving in a puff of smoke.
Director and writer Jon Christie has shining moments and moments that highlight that he is still growing into his role as writer/director. Some of the best acting is done when actors must speak in sync. Not a word is off, and the best acting occurs in these moments. It is a simplistic yet effective way of conveying how sin can enter and then take over our bodies. He also utilizes the space well with blocking- the play never feels stagnant, it uses the entire space, and yet never feels out of place in the bedroom setting. However, the characters are largely two dimensional and this leads to a "campy" overall production feeling.
I also would prefer a slightly different ending. Hopefully, without giving too much away, I want something other than a parade of good-byes/get outs. In fact, all the audience wants for Dan is for HIM to get out of the room and the rut he's stuck in. That may make for a more interesting and climatic ending though the final image, illuminated only by the computer screen, is also highly effective.
Lighting design by Joe Nagel is well executed and makes use of colored lights for each sin as they enter, creating a nice atmosphere. Josh Jacobs, in addition to acting, is also the set designer and sound designer. All the sound effects are very appropriate and well executed, even the farts. The set design is extremely well thought out though not every inch well built. There is a door that allows an entrance from the hall, the closet door, where most of the sins enter, and the bathroom door all along the upstage wall of the playing space. The wall by the bathroom door at one point almost comes down during one of Dan's anger outbursts, and the doorknob on the closet keeps falling off (smartly covered by Quach).
Costume design is credited to both Christie and Monnika Young. Costumes are very unique to each character and for the most part fit very well, giving just a hint of who they might be even before they speak. The exception is Lust's red dress. She makes it work but the lining is bunched up underneath it. I found it to be very distracting. It also seems Nuckels feels uncomfortable in her shirt and low rise jeans, making me wonder if she might need a better fit or if this is a character choice. At the times I saw it, it leads me to believe it is a fit problem.
With a lot of witty one-liners and a surprise twist or two, SEVEN'S A CROWD is an enjoyable, albeit imperfect low budget, night of theatre. If Triple J Productions wanted to take it on tour to youth camps or even to churches, all they need do is clean up a few choice words and they would be an instant hit with that crowd, but even the non-church goers will find something to enjoy and think about.
Seven's a Crowd by Jon Christie
Triple J Productions
at the Addison Theatre Center, 15560 Addison Road, Addison, Tx
Runs through August 13th
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 8:00pm and Saturday matinee @ 2:30 pm.
Tickets are $15 general admission and $12 for students/seniors.
Cash or check only please. Tickets can be purchased online at www.triplejpro.org
or by calling (469) 525- 3263. Their office is open Tuesday -Sunday noon ? 6:00 pm.