The Pear shares nine new “Slices” to celebrate nine years of innovative theater

By Ande Jacobson

As has become the tradition since The Pear’s second year, spring welcomes a collection of new one-Act plays from the Pear Avenue Theatre Playwrights Guild in its annual presentation of Pear Slices.  This year, instead of the usual eight, there are nine of them, each adding to the running themes surrounding that metaphysical fuzzy ground between faith and magic while showing us new beginnings in a variety of circumstances.  As usual, this year’s Slices installment has something for everyone.

The plays are Toppers by Douglas Rees, directed by Robyn Braverman and Diane Tasca; No Dogs Go to Heaven by Bridgette Portman, directed by Braverman and Tasca; Vanishing Borders by Elyce Melmon, directed by Braverman and Tasca; Infinite Book by Earl T. Roske, directed by Troy Johnson; Do Us Part by Paul Braverman, directed by Johnson; Pine and Oak by Leah Halper, directed by Braverman and Tasca; Mounting Olympus by Ross Peter Nelson, directed by Johnson; Careful What You Wish For by Beverly Altschuler, directed by Johnson; and The Lawyer Zone by Paul Braverman, directed by Braverman and Tasca.

There are two Bravermans listed above, a husband and wife team who have been deeply ensconced in The Pear from the beginning.  Robyn serves as a co-director for several of the plays, and Paul offers two of his new one-Acts.  Paul also joins the acting ensemble in several of the plays including one of his own.  Others in the ensemble include Kimberly Gelbwasser, Shelley Lynn Johnson, Keith Marshall, Roberta Morris, Fred Pitts, Kelly Rinehart, and Sam Tillis.

The plays cover a lot of ground, some through humor and some more seriously.  Troy Johnson designed the sets for the plays, the set pieces consisting of a small number of props and an appropriate projection for each play such as a cityscape slide shown behind a park bench in The Lawyer Zone, or a jail cell projection behind a table and chairs in Vanishing Borders.  Some stage rocks and a hat-shaped tree stump make their appearance in a couple of the plays as well.

In addition to the projections used during the action, an introductory title slide is shown during the set change from each play to alert the audience to the title of the next Act.

Beyond the sets, sound designers Jeanie and Gordon Smith provide expected sound effects to amplify the action along with carefully chosen music to highlight the mood across set changes.

Topper is clever.  Pitts and Rinehart start the play standing on a small platform, and as the story unfolds, it becomes clear their characters are polymer figures atop a wedding cake with unseen spikes running through their feet and legs holding them in place.  From the philosophical musings, he positive about the new beginning once he figures out where and what they are and she disgusted over the symbolism, to the surprise ending, the play is taut and entertaining.  The use of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” covering the subsequent set change is a particularly nice touch.

No Dogs Go to Heaven shows Adam (Tillis), a creative con man, trying to convince Rachel (Morris), a true believer, that to prepare for the Rapture, the faithful have to provide for their pets to be left behind.  The story is filled with humor side-by-side with pathos, and Tillis and Morris play well off of one another, albeit in a slightly heavy-handed way.

Vanishing Borders has multiple meanings in the context of this play.  The wall between accuser (Johnson as Juliet) and accused (Mitchell as Luke) has a porous foundation.  Each learns things about the other’s torment through their confrontation over false imprisonment when Luke’s lawyer (Pitts as Douglas) brings them together as Luke is on the verge of being released from jail.  The story flows smoothly, if a bit predictably, and the interactions between the actors are believable as faith, education, and a new beginning figure prominently.

Infinite Book delves into the relationship between two friends in a post apocalyptic world as they scavenge for food while trying to survive.  Herbert (Pitts) stumbles upon a blank book which he treats as a treasure as it allows the “reader” to imagine whatever literary work he chooses.  Pitts is marvelous in this one, his character painting a vivid picture in words describing what he sees in his mind’s eye as he remembers the great works he’s read.  Jules (Tillis) is slightly hostile as he reveals a long held secret, and the two men quickly come to a better understanding of one another and of their potential future.

Do Us Part is part murder mystery and part Frankenstein as Greg (Marshall) brings his wife Marcia (Gelbwasser) to a medium, Mme. Alexis (Morris), and asks Alexis to reanimate the limp body before her.  The writing is witty, but the actions are difficult as the Frankenstein-like story ensues.  Marshall and Gelbwasser capture the “channeling” characteristics necessary to flip personas, but in a quirky plot twist, Morris isn’t quite up to the schizophrenic shifts her character has to exhibit.

Pine and Oak is a historical piece delving into the friendship and competition between Henry Thoreau (Tillis) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (Braverman).  Nicely written, the discussions, while sometimes confrontational, help shape each of them and their focus for their later literary works.  Johnson as Cynthia Thoreau, Henry’s mother, and Morris as Lidian Emerson round out the cast.

Mounting Olympus is rather fanciful as talk show host Alyssa (Johnson) interviews various guests including Dr. Tressidor (Pitts), a Frenchman studying the effects that women who’ve liaised with the gods would experience, and the women he’s studied.  Gelbwasser and Rinehart play multiple such women, and the writing is a little disjoint and fairly graphic in this one.  Some of the humor is very funny and off-color, but it’s also rather predictable.

Careful What You Wish For is cute.  A distraught Fred (Mitchell), despondent over losing both his job and his girlfriend in the space of an afternoon, stumbles upon a magic bottle.  Lo and behold, when he rubs it and says a minor incantation, he gets not one, but three genies (Rinehart, Braverman, and Tillis).  Who knew there were turf wars in that mystical world?  Pragmatism eventually wins out, but it’s an entertaining trip getting there.

The Lawyer Zone is very clever.  A blatant parody of The Twilight Zone, humor runs toward the cerebral in this one dumping Dan Smith (Pitts) into a park where he is bombarded with obtuse legal references as Leo (Mitchell), Eileen (Johnson), and Justine (Morris) respond to Smith’s every question or statement with copious legalese.  The announcer (Braverman) steps outside it all talking directly to the audience in a very Rod Serling-like fashion.  The remaining cast members add to the chaos late in the play, and in a befitting bit of staging, a symbol returns from earlier in the evening.

There’s something for almost everyone in this year’s Slices installment although because of liberal use of adult language and some sexual situations, it’s not suitable for young children.

Where:  Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View, CA 94043

When:  Continues through 3 June 2012, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.

See http://www.thepear.org or call (650)254-1148 for tickets or more information.

Photo supplied courtesy of The Pear.

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