CARDBOARD PIANOby Hansol Jung
Proper Hijinx Productions
Directed by – Becki McDonald
Set/Props Designer – Stefany Cambra
Lighting Designer – Jason Foster
Costume Designer – Catherine D’Allibale
Sound Designer – Becki McDonald
Fight Choreographer – Jeremy Stein
Stage Manager – Katie Brown
Whitney LaTrice Coulter – Adiel/Ruth
Stefany Cambra – Chris
Lee George – Pika/Frances
J.R. Bradford – Soldier/Paul
Reviewed Performance: 8/12/2018
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In Cardboard Piano, a local teenaged girl and the daughter of American missionaries have fallen in love amidst such “unrest” and they plan to steal away after sealing their love in a secret, makeshift wedding ceremony in a deserted church. But this is the year 2000 in a country known for lack of tolerance regarding homosexuality, and their young love is shot down. Literally.
Proper Hijinx’s founder and artistic director Stefany Cambra portrays Chris, who appears both in 2000 as a teenager and in 2014 as a young woman who has just lost her minister father. Interestingly, her performance as a teenager is more realistic than the one closer to her actual age. As young Chris, she is impulsive, spirited, and almost kind of hyper, and the chemistry she shares with Adiel (played by Whitney LaTrice Coulter) is quite believable. As a young woman who has come to bury her father, however, Ms. Cambra’s performance seems forced and stilted.
Ms. Coulter, on the other hand, truly shines in both of her roles. She first appears as 16-year-old Adiel, who is impetuous and caring, yet full of doubt that what they’re doing is right for them and their families. In the second act, she plays a completely different character - Ruth, the bubbly, motherly, loving wife of the new pastor of the church. Her physical characterizations and vocal differences for each of these very dissimilar women make it very easy to forget that they are played by the same person. Ms. Coulter is amazing to watch onstage.
Lee George plays both Pika, an injured 13-year-old soldier looking for forgiveness for his past and Frances, a young homosexual man who just wants some compassion. There’s no way Mr. George is a believable 13-year-old but he does his best with the material. His roles are more similar than the others in the play, as are his performances in them both, but he handles them well.
J.R. Bradford is tasked with playing a soldier and a minister, and he provides very different physicality for them both. As Paul, the minister, he is charismatic and shares a wonderful rapport with Ms. Coulter as his wife Ruth, and it is easy to see why he is able to build the church up after it had been vacant for so long. However, he is also given the difficult task of being believable as an adult version of Pika, which just doesn’t work.
While the story and the play’s message are good overall, the script is problematic partially due to the need to double young Pika with the actor playing Paul while Chris is played by the same actor. At least, I assume that was the choice of playwright Hansol Jung as opposed to that of director Becki McDonald.
Ms. McDonald’s direction is spotty. She does an excellent job with the actors playing dual roles, helping them find their characters’ differences yet she allows Ms. Cambra in the single role of Chris to resort to actor tricks in the second act. The action in the first act all seems to take place center stage, and the benches (church pews) on the sides of the stage are completely avoided. Blocking in the second act is a much better use of the whole stage.
Ms. McDonald also serves as sound designer and the music chosen is culturally appropriate. Catherine D’Annibale’s costumes suit the characters well. Ms. Cambra, in addition to her performance onstage, serves as set and props designer, and both of these are very well done. The set especially is simple and effective, making an excellent use of the space. Jason Foster’s lighting design is what really makes the set shine, though. His use of color on the cyclorama and within the scenes provides a layer of richness and professionalism that I haven’t seen in prior Proper Hijinx shows. Nicely done.
I mentioned above that the script of Cardboard Piano is problematic, and that’s not just because of the difficult doubling needed cast-wise. The plot is also a bit heavy-handed, relying a great deal on unrealistic coincidence for all the puzzles to fit together properly. That said, I do think that Ms. McDonald and Proper Hijinx have put together a polished and enjoyable production, and the story is one that will unfortunately be relevant until the end of time. I’m just not sure the script itself is worthy of all their hard work.
Proper Hijinx Productions
performing at Dance Xpress
4320 Marsh Ridge Rd, Suite #130
Carrollton, TX 75010
Runs through August 19
Actual days: Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $12.00
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://properhijinx.com/