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In My Room

BPF One-Acts About Dropping Out Are Worth Tuning In

Mark Steckbeck (left) and Darryl Croxton in FPCT's Free Fall

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 7/25/2001

Anthem and Free Fall

Joe Dennison and Mark Scharf

Is dropping out of society a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on who's writing the script. In Joe Dennison's drama Anthem, an alcoholic Vietnam veteran is so reclusive that we never see him but only hear about him through the words of his two emotionally scarred daughters. In Mark Scharf's comedy Free Fall, the protagonist decides to quit his job and devote himself to eating pizza and drinking booze in a messy apartment.

These one-act plays, part of this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival, make for a very satisfying double bill in an Uncommon Voices production at Fells Point Corner Theatre. Both scripts need fine tuning, but Dennison and Scharf also demonstrate the scripting savvy they've accrued via their previous festival entries.

Dennison's harrowing analysis of a psychologically disturbed Vietnam vet is all the more intriguing because we never meet the man. He's usually off in some other room turning up the stereo in order to turn off the outside world. Although the play's episodic structure provides us with enough insights into the vet's life, there are deliberate expositional gaps to keep us wondering what makes this guy tick.

The play opens with the vet's daughters, young Kat (Tolly Wright) and younger Sill (Alex Burkhardt), mourning their mother, whose death in a road accident may be due to their father's negligence. Later scenes present the teenaged Kat (Michelle Clay) and Sill (Claire Bromwell) going through such rites of passage as Kat's high school prom and her life in a college dorm.

What's dramatically moving about their relationship is how these very different sisters struggle to remain close. The rebellious Kat hates their father, moves out of the house, and fully engages in drugs and the sexual revolution, while the more conservative Sill, who stays home to care for their ailing father, seems doomed to live the rest of her life in that house.

Rock music and radio news reports glibly if effectively place us in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. These are New Jersey gals, so it's appropriate that Bruce Springsteen's anthem "Born in the U.S.A." is one of the transitional songs heard between scenes.

Dennison has written a powerful script, but that power seems dissipated by the conclusion of this 70-minute play. He tends to repeat thematic points so insistently that you may start feeling worn out. The playwright should prune the redundant lines and go further with the nuggets of new biographical information supplied in the final scenes.

Anthem's director, Sharon Weaver, needs to get a firmer grip on the pacing, and help help the actors tweak some of their performances. Although the cast is convincing, at times fiercely so, Clay's voice tends to grow so shrill that it has a fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect. She should tone down her shouting and find other ways to show her character's intensity.

God knows there's nothing intense about the hero of Mark Scharf's Free Fall. Joe (Darryl Croxton) has decided to quit his job and just relax in an apartment cluttered with liquor bottles and pizza boxes. "I think of it as quality time, all the time," he says. An uptight co-worker, Dennis (Mark Steckbeck), stops by and pleads with him to come back to work.

As a 35-minute philosophical consideration of the merits of dropping out of the rat race, Free Fall is deftly written and often quite funny. Under Miriam Bazensky's direction, the two actors trade lines with the expertise of a vaudeville team. What really makes the play sparkle is Croxton's first-rate performance. He gets the most out of a line reading, and constantly adjusts his hair and bathrobe to comic effect.

But Scharf's brief script would benefit from more detail about Joe and Dennis' lives. For instance, they constantly talk about their jobs without ever specifying what kind of work they do. Admittedly, Joe is withdrawing from the world and happily embracing lethargy, but that doesn't mean the playwright should be so parsimonious in showing how Joe got so lazy.

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