|Kent Welborn and Heidi Haggerty Welborn|
photo by Mark Gluckman
At Theatre Artists Studio, Resisting Irrelevancy: A Quirky Collection of Quick Comedies delivers exactly what the title promises, a night of laughs through a variety of short plays that have just enough of a common thread to tie the show neatly together with a satisfying end. The production takes a perfectly suited 'less-is-more' approach with just the right amount of set and design to truly let the actors and the writing shine.
Written by Debra Rich Gettleman, an award-winning journalist on top of being an actor/producer/playwright, Resisting Irrelevancy toes the line of having a strong overall point-of-view without restricting each set of characters to a single voice. Each short play stands alone, with the exception of two that feature recurring characters, yet each 'quick comedy' does an excellent job of complementing its counterparts. Gettleman's note in the program to the audience rings true, leading with "Have you ever felt like you were invisible, like no matter how loudly you scream, no one can hear you?" It's hardly a sentiment that seems applicable to a series of comedies, but it works. It really does.
Gettleman blends comedy with sometimes all-too-real issues women (and aging women in particular) face, but she does so in a way that presents women as they are: flawed, frank, and funny as hell. In her attempt to 'resist irrelevancy', she even peppers in some tasteful lesbian jokes, which are difficult to find these days. Unfortunately, one very brief mention ventures into dangerous territory with a sex reassignment joke that rubbed me quite the wrong way, but it's hard to say if the intention was simply misguided, or from a place of truth (gender and sexuality are a big grey area, but the implication of lesbians wanting reassignment surgery simply for sex reinforces some negative stereotypes that I'm not comfortable with). With my seminar on gender and sex at its end, it's fair to say that overall, Gettleman's Resisting Irrelevancy does a solid A- in terms of staying relevant, and a firm A+ in creativity.
Resisting Irrelevancy has not a single weak link in the cast, but there are several stand-outs that deserve mention. Angee Lewandowski is lovable, hilarious and earnest in both roles that she plays in BFF and S.A.L.T., her vulnerability truly brings the humor to life. Dolores D'Amore Goldsmith and Marcia Weinberg are a perfect pair in Sweet Potatoes, positively witty and perfectly matched. Meg Sprink shows versatility and expressive range in K.I.N.D.and Presbyopia, her timing, movement, and subtlety make her a vibrant addition to this stellar cast. Patti Moran, also in Presbyopia and BFF, shines in the second act with humor and flavor reminiscent of Schitt's Creek. Kent Welborn displays a sincerity with his humor, an ease that makes both his darker and more likable character memorable. Heidi Haggerty Welborn is Kent's perfect partner in Jimbo Juice, she brings a frantic desperation that anyone who's had to limit their carbs or calories knows all too well, and gives us a softness that plants Jimbo Juice and Jimbo Juice 2 firmly in the minds of the audience well after they've left the theater.
Richard Powers Hardt's direction allows the actors to shine and brings out the elements that really make comedy not just land, but stick with you. A simple set with movable elements, also designed by Hardt, allows for quick changes and cleverly uses each piece with the utmost efficiency. Nothing goes to waste, and the set pieces serve each set they form uniquely without overwhelming the simple stage. Visual Media Design by Hardt and Rick Herman provide simple and highly effective visual cues that give the audience a firm sense of place in every scene. Stacy Walston's lighting design is similar: simple, yet effective. Kimberly Powers Hardt's property design similarly benefits the production, giving just the right nudges toward realism without cluttering the spaces or distracting. It all works together seamlessly to achieve a unified vision, which is all any production can strive toward. Sound design by Richard Powers Hardt and Bruce Howden adds just the right touches to bring each scene to life, and where others might have added extra ambient sound to fill the quiet, Hardt and Howden opt to let the actors be the focus which turns out all for the better. The costumes provided by the cast show personality, but remain simple and effective, much like the rest of the creative elements.
Resisting Irrelevancy at The Theatre Artists Studio proves that simplicity is far from overrated. It isn't trying too hard or trying to compensate, as there's nothing to compensate for. The actors take their rightful spotlights, and the script shines through brilliantly with the simple purity of the creative elements. Each aspect elevates the others, which elevates the production as a whole. All in all, Resisting Irrelevancy is a night of laughs and thoughtful dialogue with a just-right ending.
CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through September 1