- OnStage Contributing New York Critic
I have to admit that the romance genre, generally speaking, is not a favorite of mine. There are a variety of reasons for this, among them being some inevitable clichés that can emerge in the writing, and thus lead to some mediocre art. Still, there are still some occasions in which a well-written romance play can keep me entertained. That much was clear this Wednesday, as I was able to easily enjoy and appreciate some of the gems in Look Me in the Eyes, a series of new one-act plays now being presented by American Renaissance Theater Company.
Staged in the intimate Director’s Studio of the Director’s Company, this production is a combination of short plays and poetry, which tell the stories of couples and companions of various ages, whom meet and know each other under various circumstances. The unfortunate part about having to review seven pieces (two of them being two scenes from one play) in one review is that it would be impossible for me to do as in-depth analysis of each play, as I normally would give to any one play I’m reviewing, without it going on for too long. Nonetheless, I will do my best to provide my basic assessment of each play here, so our readers can have at least some idea of what to expect from each of them.
The show starts off slow, with the dull Scene One of the play Look Me in the Eyes – of which the overall production is named – written by Margo Hammond. Some other audience members seemed to enjoy this piece, but personally, in spite the performances turned in by Kathleen Swan and James Rutledge, I couldn’t help but feel that the humor was falling flat. The second play – A New York Encounter by Fran Handman – was a major improvement, with the highly enjoyable (albeit somewhat clichéd) humor being delivered excellently by James Nugent and Marie Wallace.
After that came The Art of Escape by Bill Cosgriff, which was well-written and funny at times, but while Megan Greener was excellent in her role, Daniel Kirby’s performance proved to be less than stellar. However, both Catharine Boyd and Judy Frank easily kept my attention with their wonderful performances in one of the better plays in this series, Stamina by Donna Kaz. Time with Harold and Hal was mildly entertaining, too, with Mr. Nugent and Mr. Rutledge both doing well in this piece.
Triple Play by Marc Castle was mildly funny but not outstanding, with the two female actors – Ms. Greener and Alexandra Curran – both turning in decent performances, although it became clearer here that Mr. Kirby could use some acting lessons. Finally, we see Ms. Swan and Mr. Rutledge return for Scene Two of Look Me in the Eyes. While this production is named after these two particular scenes, they might as well have called it something else, as each of the two scenes from were the weakest pieces in the show.
I thought that Linda Kampley’s “love poems” that were performed by different actors in between each play were a lovely addition to the production, and it was also here that it became more obvious that the women were the highlights of the cast, as they performed these short poems just as strongly as they did their roles in the plays.
While the show tilts toward being a positive experience, it is still a mixed bag, particularly in terms of the writing. This isn’t too surprising to me, as that seems to be the case quite often, with many one-act play events. Nonetheless, there is enough talent and there are enough funny moments in this production that make it worth going to see. Feel free to go check out these plays, and decide for yourself.
“WinterWorks 2018: Look Me In The Eyes" – presented by American Renaissance Theater Company – runs at the Director's Studio of the Director's Company from January 24th to February 4th. For more information, please visit www.americanrenaissancetheater.com.