Friday, May 10, 2013

One White Crow by Dale Griffiths Stamos

Rob Estes, Jane Hajduk

By Joe Straw

The psychic took a look at her hand and ran out of the building.  We watched her dry heaving from the window until she could compose herself and come back in to finish the session.    

My wife knew she was sick.  She had discovered a lump on the inside of her right leg. Still she waited for the insurance - which was just an “okay” away.  

But, in 1994, while she waited, she continued to work as the tele-sales manager for LA Phil/Hollywood Bowl when she came upon these incredible box seats at the Bowl, generally reserved for “special clients”.  She sold them to a well-known television/movie celebrity. He was so grateful that he promised to repay the favor.

That same year, I was hired to work on “Silk Stalkings” a television series in San Diego and was commuting on the weekends.

She left LAPhil when her boss refused to provide her with medical coverage and she subsequently checked herself in at County USC Medical where she was diagnosed as having stage 4 cancer.

Then the cancer started to get worse. The treatment wasn’t working.  I quit my job at “Silk Stalkings” to take care of her until she died, January 5th, 1995.

I can imagine her right now, smiling, holding a cigarette with one hand, and sipping on a Dewar’s and water with the other, and thinking about the irony.  Me stepping into this theatre, where one of the stars of this play was in the television show “Silk Stalkings” and the celebrity who did not repay the favor was a member of that audience.  

It’s funny how things work out.  I wonder if she was trying to tell me something.  All in all, this was a night of strange coincidences, and a night to let go.  – Narrator

Edgemar Center Of The Arts presents The World Premiere of One White Crow by Dale Giffiths Stamos, directed by Deborah LaVine, and produced by Alexandra Guarnieri.

Judith Knight (Michelle Danner) is doing rather well.  She is a psychic who speaks to the dead, no that’s the wrong term; she listens to what they are saying and passes the information along. And she gets paid for it on a highly successful television show. (Think Ghosts meets Oprah.)

But this day is different.  Those who are no longer bound by earthly delights need their information to be distributed. And Judith hears something and is able to tap into a psychic faucet.  Or so she says.   

Judith, by way of a voice she hears, invites Teresa O’Neil (Jane Hajduk), a well-respected journalist, to interview her because she wants to get things (about her life) out in the open and she has a secret to impart.  Teresa, turns off her recorder, and lets her know right off the bat that she doesn’t believe in Judith’s mumbo jumbo psychic stuff.

“Why me?” – Teresa

“I can’t tell you just yet.” – Judith

Teresa starts to walk out on the interview until Judith says that her deceased father, a world-renowned scientist, Robert O’Neil, came to her. In fact, Judith says the profile is her father’s idea. He has something to say to her but she asks for 24 hours.  

In her heart of hearts, Teresa can’t walk away from this.  She gives Judith the benefit of a doubt, opening her mind, albeit the tiniest sliver, to the possibilities that Judith listens to the dead.  

While Teresa is in town, she enlists the aid of Alex Rimbaud (Rob Estes), a childhood friend and former protégé to her father. Alex, now a television skeptic with his own show, has all the charms and the wherewithal, to move mountains. 

Despite Alex’s sententious remarks, Teresa is still smitten with her former crush.  It’s as though they have never been apart.  Odd, but as their faces and lips move close together, she still sees herself as the gaudy college kid. Never mind that she’s a beautiful and confidant, and a well-respected journalist.  (Of course, this is off the record.)

But I think they both want to know if Judith is the real deal.

Alex says there is a natural explanation for everything and he will help her anyway he can. (Wink, wink.)  One would think Alex is as much of a charlatan as Judith.

Teresa, investigating her subject, finds information and tries to discredit Judith.  But Judith is unfazed by others recognizing the flaws in her character.   Judith walks into the room eating little tiny cupcakes and tells Teresa that she suffers from depression as most artist do, but she is not the con artists people make her out to be.

Teresa, with accumulated research, wants more information on the fired whistle-blower.  He is spreading malicious gossip about microphones under the seats in Judith’s audience. And Teresa despises her trickery.  But Judith has a rational explanation, the microphones were already there before she moved in and the whistle blower had been fired for being an alcoholic and is an unreliable witness.

Later, after a night of drinking, Alex tries to light the flame again but after a discussion about Teresa’s father, Teresa asks Alex to leave.

First of all, I loved the first act and was hanging on every word of Dale Griffiths Stamos’ play, as were most of the audience members.  She weaves an intricate story of fact and fiction, truth and lies that play upon the emotions of those who believe and those who do not.   But the things that work great in the first act falls somewhat short in the second. I just didn’t get it the denouement about the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan.  (Sometimes you have to hit me over the head with the denouement.) Something was missing, or it was just an off night.  Another thing missing is the emotion imbalance.  Those moments of truth realized that tears down the walls of whatever barrier there is between two characters.  

“So your Dad was right.” – Alex Rimbaud

“Of course he was but I didn’t have to like it.” – Teresa

There was so much in that line that I immediately fell in love with Jane Hajduk and that contemptuous smile at that exact moment.  It was just the right touch in a very fine performance. One could go down a checklist of her characters traits that rang true, journalist (check), daughter (check), non-believer (check) and an implacable seeker of the truth. When questioned, she finds the truth, and the truth has a dramatic effect on her entire being.  Giving us more of that would only add to an already delightful performance.

L - R Jane Hajduk, Michelle Danner

I always enjoy watching Michelle Danner.  She brings a simple truth to the role that is reflected in her voice and movement.  And I couldn’t help but think one more layer in the trance would give the audience a little extra something to go along with a very simple and nuance performance. Still, all in all, a very exciting performance.

Rob Estes has a lot going for him playing Alex Rimbaud.  Good looks, nice jacket, able to get the girl kind of guy, all of those things except a clear objective. Okay, he wants the girl.  But why? One more notch in his belt? And why is he single? And why doesn’t he make his point clear about fake psychics?  Look, the reality is if Alex really wants something, he has to prove the other person is wrong beyond doubt.  If there is doubt, there is no proof.  His incongruous ideas and his moral nihilism had as much validity as the psychic’s ideas. There’s no question, I enjoyed Rob’s performance, but I think there is another layer or two, or three to his character. (First on the list is to take the hands out of the pockets and use them to get what you want.)

There are a lot of nice things in Deborah LaVine direction. There is a sincere focus in moments that catapult our characters in different directions.  Some things I found puzzling were the stage movements where character run off in various directions without focus.  And probably what’s left out is the mystical factor, the Ouija factor, putting your hand on the thing because you know it will move.  I think what we need to believe is the dead is really speaking to Judith. And the effect it has on Judith, the effect it has on the listener, and it must have a stronger mystical impact for the actors and the audience.  

Alexandra Guarnieri wonderfully produced this play.

The Stage Manager is Treg Van Dyke

Set Designer, Travis Thi, has created a heavenly set.  It is almost as though we have stepped over.  But, there are large curtains that interrupt the projections on the wall and from my vantage point almost impossible to see the projection.

The Lighting Designer is Jeremy Pivnick.

Run and take non-believer.  You’ll have wonderful discussions on your trip home.  

Or Call:  310-392-7327

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