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Singles Going Unsteady

A Pair of BPF Anthologies Fail to Satisfy

Leanna Foglia (left) and Lisa Geyer in FPCT's Seafood Buffet

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 8/15/2001

Seafood Buffet and Memorial Day

Rosemary Frisino Toohey and Chuck Spoler

Though their format and tones tones are different, the latest Baltimore Playwrights Festival entries to hit local boards--the broad comedy Seafood Buffet and a more dramatic Memorial Day--have two crucial things in common: Each has a unifying theme that holds its one-act components together, and each takes a while to hit its stride.

Seafood Buffet, performed at the Fells Point Corner Theatre and written by actress and BPF vet Rosemary Frisino Toohey, consists of four one-acts about focusing, with varying degrees of literalness, on marine life (in some cases more literally than others). While the scenes differ quite a bit, they are all filled with stereotypes. The first piece, Crabs!, about two families and their eccentric twentysomething children, is just goofy, with no real punch. The second one-act, In the Tank, is stronger. A long set change between the two miniplays is worrisome--even if you like the song "Rock Lobster," which is played in its entirety--but Tank is well worth the wait. The set has been transformed into a lobster tank, complete with two chatty crustaceans. Paul Craley and Mike Moran (who also directs the show) play Stu and Harry, tankmates in a seafood restaurant who have very different views on the whole being-eaten thing. Harry is a yahoo with a meathead New York accent who plays dead to keep from looking delicious; Stu is an intellectual who sings opera and sees deliciousness as his destiny. Despite the stereotypes, the actors' chemistry makes the scene fun, and Toohey's depiction of a lobster's view of humanity is clever.

Another of Seafood Buffet's highlights is Frozen Fish Sticks, in which three very different women take part in a focus group to evaluate the titular product. Judy is a hippified divorcée, Pat an uptight office manager, and Donna a giggly moron; each have children (Pat's are grown). As the women give their opinions on fish-stick packaging, they learn things about each other and go from awkward politeness to out-and-out arguing. Lisa Geyer is excellent as Judy, giving her character depth and vitality. Debbie Bennett is fine as strait-laced Pat, but Leanna Foglia plays bubble-brained Donna in a manner that, while undoubtedly intentional, is excruciatingly irritating. Still, the women's bantering dialogue is fun and witty, and Geyer's realistic yet energetic performance keeps the scene moving.

The last one-act, Tilapia, is tedious. Dickens and Branch Warfield play a little old couple discussing their strange evening with two younger couples who got into a brawl. The seniors don't understand what happened (though it is clear to the audience about two minutes in). This lack of comprehension is initially amusing, but it's a one-note gag that goes on far too long.

Throughout Seafood Buffet, Moran's direction is static--the actors spend most of each scene sitting down. Also, the collection begins and ends with its weakest pieces, deflating any excitement that might build around the good stuff. The playlets are ordered differently in the program; it's too bad this alternative order wasn't followed, for it undoubtedly would have improved the flow.

The Spotlighters' production of Chuck Spoler's Memorial Day is a decidedly less silly affair. This work is billed as two one-acts, but the two parts are so firmly interconnected, featuring many of the same characters and themes, that it's more like a unified play.

The first act, Buzzbombs Fell on Antwerp, starts with two workers at a Sheppard Pratt mental-health facility arguing about a patient who's escaped--as he does every year on Memorial Day. His disappearance dredges up the guards' own issues about the holiday. Meanwhile, at a VFW hall, a man named Jerry tends bar at a sparsely attended veterans' reunion. In fact, the only two people who show up are Missy, a former World War II nurse who drinks heavily and is insanely cheerful, and her more pessimistic friend Joyce. The two end up fighting about the death of one of Missy's many beaus. Jerry, who may or may not be the escaped patient the guards are searching for, apparently has a strange ability to bend time and, in doing so, to see the truth. He helps Missy see what really happened all those years ago and mend her relationship with Joyce. Tony Colavito is excellent as the eccentric Jerry, making even the time-shifting seem matter-of-fact. Margery Germain's Missy is sweet and bubbly without being too over-the-top, and Irene Patton is appropriately dry as her more realistic foil, Joyce. The biggest problem with this scene is that either the pacing is awkward and slow or the actors are having trouble remembering their lines. It's hard to tell which, but either way it slows down the momentum significantly.

In the second act, Blood Memory, a man named Quinton is at the grave of his best friend, who went to Vietnam while Quinton stayed behind. Once again, Jerry appears mysteriously and confronts Quinton about his guilt and denial surrounding his buddy's death. The story that unfolds is complex and powerful. While the first act meanders, the second is focused and full of mounting tension and layered emotions. Mark Squirek's performance as Quinton, the aging yuppie, is wonderful. His character smiles whenever he's nervous, a trait that beautifully depicts his inability to deal with the unpleasantness of life. And Squirek and Colavito have great intensity on stage and keep the action moving. But what really makes the second act so powerful is the way Spoler wraps up the play, complete with a legitimate, affecting surprise ending that ties up loose ends left hanging in the first act, revealing them as essential to the whole. If the first act can be tightened up and perhaps shortened, this work will be a powerful memorial to the emotional aftermath of war.

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