Anyone fascinated by the creative process knows that a work-in-progress is a beautiful thing to behold. The birth and maturation of a play is such a long and collaborative effort, it seems a miracle that any production ever reaches fruition.
Theater lovers and fellow artists get the chance to witness and take part in the development of a new play thanks to the Mobtown Players and their Playwrights’ Group. Audience members have a formative effect by taking part in a discussion following the reading.
In STAGE IV, local playwright, Madeline Leong creates five complicated personalities whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways. The title of the play literally refers to one character’s cancer while serving as a metaphor for the critical turning points in the others’ lives.
A reading is like an x-ray revealing the skeleton of a play without all the production values that grow around it. Leong has packed a lot into the picture with scenes that shift between past and present and multi-faceted characters with multiple challenging life events. A certain amount of pruning may be necessary so that the main theme the author wants to express is not lost in all the details. In gardening, cutting back the rose bushes results in bigger and better blooms though there are less of them.
Leong excels at drawing lives that mirror the twists and turns of reality. It is easy to give into the desire to branch out and discover more about each character. When does further characterization serve to strengthen the center of the play? And when is it best left to another story?
Owen Murdoch’s decision on how to handle his cancer reverberates throughout the play as his daughter Emily struggles to find her way and his young oncologist struggles to find his sanity. Two female characters balance out the spectrum of emotions: the psychologist, who is the voice of reason, experience and humor and Emily’s mother, who hovers on The Edges of memory as a willful but destructive persona. She is featured less, but is the most intense and most difficult character to define.
The performers ( Kathryn Falcone, Shawn Naar, Kathy Vary, Jessica Ruth Baker, Ty Ford) are uniformly excellent. They strip acting down to its bare bones and through intonation and simple gestures alone bring the author’s words to life.
Leong does not back away from either turmoil or triumph and this makes you root for her protagonists. Her challenge is to maintain the center of the story with five strong characters competing for attention.
Theater is a moving snapshot of reality. But it is never as cluttered as real life. The strength of any production relies on moving the lens away from extraneous details and focusing on what moves the story forward in a clear and compelling way. One looks forward to seeing a complete and refined production of an artist whose star is rising.
The Mobtown Players Playwrights Group will perform a reading of STAGE IV October 12th and 13th at 8p.m. at 3600 Clipper Mill Rd Ste. 114. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the door or online through Brown Paper Tickets. One ticket grants access to both performances (and free wine).