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By David Ives

UNT Drama Lab

Directed by Jake Blakeman
Lighting/Sound Crew – Mallory Cothran and Kurt Kelley
Producer – Christine Bartkowski

Charlie – Charlie Anton
Simone – Simone Pinnock
Bell – Kurt Kelley

Jose – Jose Aragundi
Amanda – Amanda Surman
Bell – Kurt Kelley

Reviewed Performance: 9/22/2018

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

We’ve all experienced the first moments of a conversation where a tentative “Is this seat taken?” may take us to the edge of an emotional precipice. Does the other person’s answer lead us to emotional safety or does it plunge us into the abyss? This is the premise of David Ives short play “Sure Thing”. But Mr. Ives adds a twist to this situation by giving the characters the chance to correct their verbal missteps by giving them a do-over at the ringing of a bell. The bell continues to ring until a faux pas is conquered and the couple continues onward up the rocky path to happiness. And the audience following their trek is treated to a laugh-filled adventure.

I write this review with a touch of sadness. The run of this lovely production by the UNT Drama Lab. ended this last weekend. There were four performances over three days so, dear readers, you will not have the opportunity to see this wonderful little play. But I can sing the praises of the production company and recommend you follow them on Facebook, so you can find out about future shows. “Sure Thing” is a very short play and not something you would normally find at local theaters. It is perfect for the academic setting and a great chance for students of acting and directing to cut their teeth on challenging material. It requires precise pacing and timing on the part of the director and the performers. And everyone delivers in hilarious fashion.

The show is performed in a black box theatre with a table and chairs and a bulletin board to give the feeling of a coffee shop (I read some of the posters on the board and it was evident the cast and crew had fun creating them-including a flyer touting the virtues of the dog pictured with such colorful language that it made me smile). The lights go on at the beginning, off to facilitate a change of cast, on again for the second part of the script and off for the end. There are no frills when it comes to production values.

The emphasis is on the actors. Director Jake Blakeman has assembled a talented cast and has them verbally performing at a pace that is nothing less than breathtaking. Simone Pinnock and Charlie Anton are cast A and make a charming impression. Ms. Pinnock is natural as the person reading a book at a table where there is a tempting empty chair. She handles the high-speed verbal exchanges with skill. Because the course of the play changes at each ring of the bell, Ms. Pinnock proves herself to be agile comedic actress.

Her partner, Charlie Anton, has amazing comic timing. He asks if the empty chair is taken, the answer is “Yes.”, he says “Sure thing.”, the bell rings and Mr. Anton immediately starts the process again with impeccable precision. It is amazing to watch. The character’s lines go from subtle to wonderfully outrageous and Charlie puts himself into each one. He had a lovely mime of driving a knife into his leg when mentioning his nervous breakdown that had me rolling off my chair. I hope I have a chance to see him in other productions. He is such a joy to watch.

The lights turn off at the end of the play, the lights come back on and we have cast B to start the whole script over again. They are the same lines but for a twist, the sexes have been switched and the result is just as funny as the first time around. Jose Aragundi is the book reader at the table with the empty chair. He shows more gravity than Ms. Pinnock and that makes the comedy inherent in the role very effective. His recitation of the possibility of being lured back to the other person’s apartment is a marvel in subtle comedy. Mr. Aragundi is another actor worth keeping an eye on.

Amanda Surman takes on the more active of the two roles and does so with wonderful energy. Her timing is a touch slower than Mr. Anton but no less effective. Ms. Surman is very appealing and her sometimes manic take on the character is so funny. She made the most of every line.

I need to acknowledge the most important part in the play, the bell ringer. Kurt Tully was positioned off stage and hit each cue with precision. As fast as the play went, Mr. Tully’s bell was there each step of the way. So, a special round of applause for Mr. Tully, the person we never saw but whose work was indispensable.

It is the wonder of seeing rarely seen material directed by and performed by such talented young people in a university setting that means so much to me. That is what the UNT Drama Lab provides and is a valuable service by providing us a peek in the vast amount of material that makes up the world of theatre and the wonderful theatrical talent that schools, UNT, produce. You will not have the opportunity to see “Sure Thing”, so I recommend that you follow the UNT Drama Lab on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@UNTDramaLab) to find out when their next offerings will be performed. It’s fun to get to see the future of theatre.

Thank you, producer Christine Bartkowski, director Jake Blakeman and the cast and crew of “Sure Thing” for giving me a wonderful night of laughter. I’m looking forward to your next production.

Presented by UNT Drama Lab
Production ran from September 21 – 23, 2018
RTVF and Performing Arts Building
1155 Union Cir
Denton, TX 76203
Please follow UNT Drama Lab on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@UNTDramaLab)