Spring is here, and that means it’s once again time for The Pear Avenue Theatre’s annual installment of slices in Pear Slices 2013. For the tenth time in its eleven year history The Pear welcomes audiences to enjoy a varied evening’s entertainment, this year with nine plays by nine different playwrights from the Pear Playwrights Guild spanning multiple generations and four dimensions.
This year’s fare includes: Discontinuum by Ross Peter Nelson, The Distractor by Elyce Melmon, Bozo to Squirt by Leah Halper, Chickens! by David Schreiber, Schrödinger’s Cat Goes to the Vet by Douglas Rees, Blues by Susan Jackson, Lost Melody Olympus by Bridgette Portman, Hejab! by Margy Kahn, and The Human Dilemma by Earl T. Roske. Collectively, these charming one Act plays run the gamut from science, to fiction, to science fiction, to family life.
Directors Troy Johnson and Robyn Ginsburg Braverman collaborated with their cast consisting of: Jonathan Ferro, Jim Johnson, Ann Kuchins, Hannah Larson, Tess Middlebrook, Leslie Newport, Mike Rhone, and Michael Weiland to bring the plays to life. These eager actors were joined by several of the playwrights through many of their rehearsals, so some of the plays were revised on the fly until it was time for the first audience members to burst through the doors on preview night.
In keeping with playing many parts, both directors provided additional services to the production. Johnson designed a functional set that easily transforms to support each of the nine distinct plays with minimal physical manipulation. A screen sits upstage center on which each play’s title appears at the start, followed by an appropriate scene projection or two during each story. Two folded flats adorn each side, and for all but the first play, are extended along the edges of the stage. Simple crates are arranged as benches, a car, tables, and even a rock at one point.
Braverman provided the sound design utilizing period or thematic music from disco to country and even a little classical along the way, all enhancing the start of each play. The light cue to begin intermission was amusingly intensified by the song “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” playing over the sound system.
Discontinuum starts the evening with a trip through a break in the space-time continuum with Newport and Johnson playing an old married couple named Tom and Jan and Middlebrook and Rhone playing their reflections in the bathroom mirror. While not perfectly matched, the four work well together literally mirroring their dimensional opposites. The play is fairly well written, and the story flows comfortably with just the right amount of consternation when the dimensional balance is tipped and we have one too many “Tom’s” on one side of the mirror. Johnson and Rhone are very funny, both when they are mirroring one another, and when they end up on the same side trying to set things straight. Newport adds the voice of reason, but it’s Middlebrook who appears to have the final say, though at least on opening night, she swallows the last line.
The Distractor doesn’t quite work. Larson plays an unscrupulous delinquent, Weiland plays her recently paroled and somewhat reluctant partner in crime, and Kuchins plays their mark. Larson and Weiland really don’t have any chemistry and seem under rehearsed in this one while Kuchins’ Margaret is more accessible, but still not entirely credible. Overall, the plotline moves too slowly, and the dialogue is choppy.
Bozo to Squirt also needs a bit more revision. There’s no real journey in this one, but rather there’s a lot of kvetching about family relationships and sparse communication when one family member runs off to the join the military during wartime. Newport, Ferro, Larson, and Middlebrook form an extended family preparing for an on-base visit with their son/brother/nephew played by Weiland who’s recently returned stateside. The plotline wants to set up a special relationship between brother and sister, but it just doesn’t grab the audience’s attention, and the conclusion is anticlimactic, in part because it’s rushed to keep the play short.
Chickens! cooks. It starts out slowly with Kuchins playing an apparently demented grandmother with Middlebrook as her scared, high-strung granddaughter. Rhone plays Middlebrook’s boyfriend and eventually takes a very active part in the story. A surprising family situation is revealed, and then it gets interesting and a little slapstick. Rhone’s reaction to the startling news is priceless as his and Middlebrook’s characters try to help one another through it all. While there are a few throw away lines, overall the story works well.
Schrödinger’s Cat Goes to the Vet is an interesting piece of writing. A science fiction parody, the play is both funny and thought provoking with just enough physics thrown in to make the discourse interesting. Johnson plays Erwin Schrödinger (well known for his many contributions to quantum theory and wave mechanics along with his famous thought experiments) while Ferro plays Jorge Luis Borges (an Argentine writer who focused on unreality and the ethereal in his writing), each bringing out the intellectual and physical comedy nicely.
Blues is a little slow but believable. Kuchins and Newport portray a mother and daughter sitting in the park together. Their discussion gets a little heavy as they talk about how their family and their finances ended up where they did, and how they’ll move forward. There’s not a clean resolution, but it reads realistically, with just a touch of longing, and the blues music at the top of the play and the blue jay singing through much of the dialogue add nice ambiance.
Lost Melody Olympus is quite well done. Although many of the lines are repeated with slightly different undertones at different times during the play, both Rhone and Weiland as father and son, deliver them with powerful emotions. A picture of a dysfunctional family unfolds, each of them credibly disclosing his character’s regrets on the eve of a memorial that deeply touches them both.
Hejab! shows us a collision of Islam and mainstream American culture. Ferro plays an Islamic man who’d left his American daughter some years earlier, and Larson is that daughter, visiting him at a conference in Hawaii. Although she was born in the US, she shows up wearing a hejab, something that frightens her father. Middlebrook plays a colleague of Ferro’s, although there’s clearly more to their relationship. Ferro and Middlebrook are comfortable and realistic together. Larson is slightly out of place and is not quite credible, her character testing her father’s reactions.
Finally, The Human Dilemma ventures back into the world of retro science fiction with Johnson and Newport playing the parents of an unusual child played by Weiland. The script could be tightened up a bit, but the three cast members play this one for laughs, and they get them.
All in all, Pear Slices 2013 should be a success. The content is varied enough to cover almost anyone’s taste in theatre fluctuating between the realistic, the sublime, the improbable and the impossible, and all in slightly under two hours.
What: Pear Slices
Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View, CA 94043
When: Continues through 28 April 2013, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.
See www.thepear.org or call (650)254-1148 for tickets or more information.
(Photo courtesy of The Pear)