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Friday, January 29, 2010

Truth and Beauty and Road House at Fertile Ground

Posted by Alison Hallett on Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 11:33 AM

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Last night I did some Fertile Ground show-hopping, catching portions of two shows—not the ideal way to see theater, but scheduling is the bane of this festival, and I wanted to get an idea of how two very different works-in-progress were shaping up.

Though its emphasized that it's a workshop, the first act of Many Hats' Truth and Beauty was really very strong. In a work based on Ann Patchett's memoir about her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy, Betsy Cross and Jessica Wallenfells use a succinct combination of words and movement to convey both the literal facts of the friendship between the two women (Lucy had cancer, which disfigured her face; the two women went to the same college, roomed together at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and struggled together to become "real writers") and the friendship's emotional underpinnings (Lucy's neediness; Patchett's worry for her friend).

Grealy underwent a number of reconstructive surgeries in her struggle with cancer, and Wallenfells wears a series of masks to represent the work-in-progress that was Grealy's face . She also goes topless for a portion of the show that explicitly deals with the way other people respond to Lucy's deformity, a device that effectively forces the audience into an awareness of where their own gazes are trained. And crucially, as with past Many Hats shows, this one—or at least the first act!—knows just when to poke fun at itself, just when to pull back to prevent an emotional moment from becoming an overwrought one.

I reluctantly left Truth and Beauty at intermission, so I really only saw the lighthearted portion of the show—I imagine it takes a turn for the wrenching in its second act, which recounts Lucy's decline. (anyone who's seen it, thoughts?). But instead of watching a woman slowly die of cancer, I skedaddled down to the Armory for a staged reading of Road House.

I've never seen the movie (a situation I plan to remedy at Cort and Fatboy's next midnight movie), but the staged reading of Courtenay Hameister and Shelley McLendon's adaptation really exceeded my expectations. A handful of local comedians provided the cast, but it was Courtenay Hameister's delivery of the stage directions that made the show. (I particularly liked her blow-by-blows of the fight scenes, which were reminiscent of a very violent game of Twister "Punch to the face. Punch to the face. Roundhouse kick. Hair tug. Punch to the face.") The whole thing was clever and silly and fun, and the packed audience seemed to think so too—I'm looking forward to the full production in March (though I hope they consider keeping the stage directions, in some form—they really were the best part).

UPDATE! Just checked with Shelley McClendon, who says: "Yes- the stage directions are for sure staying. They have become another character. For the full production, we are just going to be building on what we have started by adding more visual elements, but in a minimal way so that the focus remains on the dialogue and the physical action. The music will be bigger and better. It is also going to be at the Someday Lounge, so we want to take advantage of the uniqueness of that space."

Which reminded me that, yes, the music was also used to really great effect.

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