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Unfinished Business

There's a good play waiting to be fine tuned in G-Man

Kara Turner offers Mike Ware breakfast.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 8/5/2009

G-Man

By Rosemary Frisino Toohey

Through Aug. 9 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival describes itself as an "environment that nurtures the talents of . . . playwrights . . . through public readings, discussions, critiques, and workshopping of new plays." New plays, however, are almost always unfinished plays, because it's the rare script that doesn't need alteration after it first meets an audience. So the best way to approach BPF productions is to contemplate the shows not as what they are but as what they might become. That's certainly true of Rosemary Frisino Toohey's G-Man, which is mostly unsatisfying in its current Fells Point Corner Theatre production directed by Uncommon Voices' founder Miriam Bazensky. Certain performances and certain passages in the script, however, offer glimmers of the better show G-Man might someday be.

The title is a pun, for the main character is not an FBI agent, but a garbage man. As the curtain opens, Larry (Mike Ware) wakes up in bed with another strange woman who can barely remember his name. When the half-naked woman starts asking about his profession, Larry's testy reaction indicates that he's had this conversation before and it usually ends up with the woman making some excuse and never seeing him again.

Here is a potentially rich vein of drama: the son of a successful man who is both embarrassed by and proud of his blue-collar job. If G-Man could bring out that inner turmoil--the moments of self-loathing as well as the moments of genuine satisfaction and angry resentment--the play might really take off. In the current production, though, Toohey gives us only the rhetoric that camouflages that internal struggle, and Ware has so much trouble remembering his lines that he can't suggest the sources of Larry's defensiveness.

Soon, Larry finds himself in a nursing home to visit his senile, wheelchair-bound mother. Dickens Warfield does a good job of portraying a woman who tries at all costs to maintain her dignity even as her awareness of her surroundings slips in and out of focus. The scene raises several tantalizing questions: Why does Larry keep hinting at deep grudges against his father? How is he paying for this nursing home on a garbage man's salary? Why is he so unreasonably hostile to the home's staff?

More suspense is stirred just before intermission when Larry finds something unexpected in a garbage bag. Once again the questions make an audience hungry for answers--exactly what a playwright wants early in a show. But Toohey never provides sufficient answers and leaves the audience feeling betrayed--exactly what you don't want late in a show.

In fact, the whole second act feels rushed before it ends all too abruptly--as if Toohey had run out of time to finish the play before the submission deadline. Perhaps she can take some more time now and flesh out the second half so she gives the audience the answers it craves: How and why did the surprise end up in the bag? What were the repercussions when it was discovered? What exactly happened between Larry and his father? Surely it must have involved something more than a stolen car. What drives Larry to pursue so many unhappy romances? What can explain his utterly implausible happy romance at the end of the show?

Toohey has written a good comic scene to open the second act: Larry's latest one-night stand tries to convince him that erectile dysfunction is not really a problem because so many men have the same problem--and she knows because she's slept with a lot of them. Kneeling in bed in a purple bra, actress Kara Turner delivers the dialogue with a funny, motor-mouth momentum that barrels over Larry's attempts to get a word in edgewise.

There's another strong scene where Pete, Larry's supervisor at the sanitation department, explains why he's changing Larry's shift. Actor Saul Clark-Braverman does a good job of sounding like an understanding boss at first, before gradually losing patience with Larry's whining. The audience loses patience along with Pete and realizes that Larry is not always justified in his complaints. If only Larry's arguments with his sister and the nursing-home administrator had been handled as deftly.

Maybe they will in the play's next draft. Perhaps we will see G-Man again with a rewritten script and some recasting. If so, the Baltimore Playwrights Festival will have served its purpose and pointed both author and director down a new road.

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