A play-within-a-play, that’s been done. But a play about a theatre company trying to find start-up capital to take their unconventional methods on the road? That might be what you’re getting with The Mobtown Players’ premiere of The Apple Don’t Fall, a new play written and directed by Brent Englar. You might also get a story about a simple man from Appalachia who finds himself with a whole mess of money after a tragic tornado-related accident that has killed his entire family. With the exception of his long-lost half-sister that he’s never heard of. Who has conveniently come to town needing money to fund her entrepreneurial endeavors. All that and a bag of chips (ok, no chips, but there will be mimes!) is what this fast-paced dramadey is all about.
Playwright and Director Brent Englar brings together a fusion of standard narrative and collaborative movement-based work in this new play. Englar’s unique approach to combining the two give the audience a story and a series of interpretive movements that involve a hybrid of clowning, mime work, and dance choreography. The play has limited faults, one being that Englar chooses to splice an intermission between act’s two and three causing an awkward pause in the story’s momentum. It isn’t that the intermission itself feels out of place but rather that the connectivity to what’s happened in the first half is dulled during the break. It would flow seamlessly without an intermission and prevent the audience from losing the play’s natural build up.
The other problem that sits with this work is the uncertainty of the ending. At first the ending has a stark abrupt quality to it that is quite powerful. But then it lingers, the action that occurs there being repeated and repeated, which just feels trite and forced after the second attempt. The play loses the profundity created by the initial ‘false’ ending and lands in a state of confusion with the current approach to the ending.
That said the acting was compelling and engaging. There is much to be said for what is essentially a two-person show carried by two vastly different characters with a series of colorful inserts in the format of non-speaking actors, and one blustering director. The stereotype of Leon the director’s character is carried out with a zealous flare and he adds a ripe series of comedic moments to this otherwise off-kilter dramadey.
Leon (Will Carson) is a flamboyant spazz when it comes to his company and the prospects of global growth. The ideologist behind ‘Gestation Theatre Company’ – a company where words are blasé and unnecessary, Carson takes a boisterous approach to the character, erupting into shouting fits, and straining to communicate ideas that he clearly thinks the rest of the universe should understand without question. He makes an insufferable character brilliantly comedic, adding laugh after laugh every time he enters the stage. Carson plays the character to the hilt of a ‘type-A’ personality, constantly on edge and particularly high strung; an acting match made in heaven for this actor and his enactments.
The heart of the story revolves around Dan (Christopher Krysztofiak) who is the epitome of simplistic tempered with knowledge. He is naïve without being stupid, the perfect reflection of a mountain man who has lead an ordinary, albeit sheltered, life. Krysztofiak keeps the character compelling by making his physicality absolutely spastic. There is a buzzing energy, almost nervous in quality, which resonates through his person keeping him in perpetual motion even when he’s sitting still. His giddy nature erupts in the purest of physical forms as he all but tumbles over his porch table and leaps across the stage.
This high-end personality is counterbalanced by his long lost half-sister Glenne (Melissa O’Brien). Level-headed, articulate, grounded in a firm sense of reality; all the things that Dan is not, the embodied qualities of O’Brien’s character that come to the surface primarily through her vocal usage. She is not without her outbursts, however, and though mostly vocal we see a rich expressive side to her physicality when she first encounters the ‘Enactors.’ O’Brien plays a sweet and learned character, juxtaposing family need against hopes and dreams in a matter that sucks you immediately into her story; a natural empathy gravitating from the audience toward her plight from the moment you hear her story.
The spectacle of the production comes from the ‘Enactors’ (Greg Bowen, Vince Constrantino, Claire Coyle, and Polly Hurlburt). With virtually no words between them these four performers rely solely on their bodies for communications. Having been gifted with their own language of the body the spend the majority of the production in fluid movements that translate into conversations only they and their director can understand. Hurlburt and Bowen in particular have a melding fusion of body language that is breathtakingly beautiful, when they work together in the second act they display a world of emotion that genuinely showcases the hybrid format of dance and clowning mime work that comes together in this production.
The collaborative movement effort, lead by Movement Director Caitlin Bouxsein and Movement Consultant Tara Cariaso, creates moments of sheer physical beauty on the stage that are both aesthetically pleasing and perplexing as the audience tries to construe meaning from their movements. Bouxsein’s choreography combined with Cariaso’s techniques of clowning in this production balance out the interpretive side of the performance, blending mediums of expression into a hybrid of frustrating glory.
Yes, this production still has words, much to Leon and the Gestational Theatre’s chagrin, but they’re worth hearing, so you should book your tickets while you can because you wouldn’t want them getting whirled away in a tornado before you can.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with one intermission.
The Apple Don’t Fall plays through March 23, 2013 at The Mobtown Theatre at Meadow Mill — 3600 Clipper Mill Road Suite 114, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door, or online.