Saturday, March 15, 2014

Talhotblond by Kathrine Bates

By Joe Straw

(Bear with me in allowing my imaginative self to immerse myself in this character to tell a story.)

I, Thomas Montgomery (Mark Rimer), am an average, middle aged, no comb-over, balding man.  After I was discharged from the Marines, I found a low-end job - that I hated - pushing papers at a manufacturing plant in upstate New York. 

I have a daughter, Gwen Montgomery (Julian Arian), a very beautiful sweet daughter who doesnt deserve me because of what I did. 

I crossed a line, no, the line, to saturate a need. 

This doesnt explain anything, but being average never satisfies, anything. 

I have a home, well, a small house with nasty curtains that I share with my daughter and wife, Cheryl Montgomery (Kathleen OGrady).  She is a beautiful woman for which Ive completely lost interest.  Our early sex life was far from great, although I think she thinks its great, and its gotten worse over the years.  At this point, nothing is working, my job, my life, and you can throw in that cold, nasty, tasteless meatloaf sitting on the stove.

Something had to change.  And, no sooner than I thunkit, someone dramatic came into my life. Who would have thought that goofing off at work, playing games would lead me to see the name Talhotblondon my computer screen? My soon-to-be, dear, sweet Jenny (Erin Elizabeth Patrick), a very clever young woman, dropped suggestive comments to me.  Innocent comments and then, we started connecting, and something just moved inside me.  

Hot and heavy, like the flush I get when I take a Niacin tablet, is how I felt when I read her remarks.  My face burned, my heart raced, and my pulse quickened. I wanted to jump right into the computer screen and play. 

Through every moment with her on the computer, sweat poured underneath my arms and down my sides. My fingertips burned typing fast and furiously.  My prodigious digits had a life of their own, and said things that I could never say to anyone else.  In my mind, colors became brighter, the screen started changing to a glorious shade of pink, and the frustrating part is that I could not get any closer.  I wanted to inhale her.  

I was a young Marine,  I lied, marinesinper was my tag name, and I took control of her like I took control of my rifle after firing off a couple of rounds.  The gun was hot, she was hot, and the only oral satisfaction I got, after it was all over, were my lips and teeth sinking into a nice ripe peach. 

I lugged around my Dell everywhere.  Doing it at work, typing before that kid Pete (Oscar Cain Rodriguez) comes in and, in a stinking sinking moment, disrupts everything.  And of course I cant set a bad example so I switch it off.  But hes not as bad as that overly good-looking college kid, Alan Garrett (John-Paul Lavoisier). He reminds me, of me when I was a kid, and theres something about his good looks that rubs me the wrong way. 

Well, he used to.

The Ruskin Group Theatre Company and Sammy and Zoey Productions stages the World Premiere of Talhotblondby Kathrine Bates and directed by Beverly Olevin through April 26, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.

The cover on the Footlights program has a picture of a benign motionless young woman, with a pixelated face.  Indistinguishable on a cover is not an appealing image.  Below her buttocks is a chat font TALHOTBLOND: everybody lies online. 

I believe everybody lies onlineis giving away the store. From here, you can conjure any scenario and come up with your own conclusions precisely guessing the ending of the play. 

That aside, the thingthat drew me to this play was the plot steps necessary to get to the ending.  How could this be carried out to give the audience an emotionally charged evening on stage?  The process is what fascinates me about theatre. 

But the progression of the action on stage doesnt live up to the image or the tag line.  What we are watching is a PG presentation of an intimate sexual fantasy that doesnt go beyond the hand holding stage.   And theatre in Los Angeles is becoming so engaging these days that there is a need for theatre that is mentally stimulating, and provocative without being overly graphic.  Certainly, in this production, theres a lot of room for risk taking.

My personal needs are to feel the heat, the emotional connection with the characters. And be that as it may I want to talk about the actors, the characters, what I saw, and what I would like to see first and foremost, and then speak to the writing and directing.

Mark Rimer plays Thomas Montgomery, has a nice voice, projects well, and moves about the stage comfortably with little effort. But the character, in his impotent despair, is emotionally detached from his fantasy.  There is dialogue suggesting he is on the computer all the time. If that is the case he should treat his computer like the nubile 18-year-old of his imagination.  To hide, to love, to pet, to physically fantasize are a few verbs that would help with the implacable relationship he has with his computer.  This alone would get us into his emotional stage of mind.  Also, being closer physically to your fantasy on stage would help as well. Additionally, he should be apologizing to his 18 year old daughter every chance he gets if only to give the character an emotional state of mind and physical characteristics of a man on the edge. His relationship to all of the characters on stage should grow with each step. In order for his character to work in this romantic tragedy the character should be emotionally, physically, and spiritually swept away. Inert fanaticism should play a small role in his characterization.

Erin Elizabeth Patrick (Jenny the THB) makes an interesting choice in using a Southern accent for someone living in West Virginia who writes mountain talkand probably should speak it as well.   Its a rather odd choice. That aside, the character must include actions to make her more sexually appealing every time she steps on stage.  Putting on different garments does not help if not accompanied by strong luring physical actions.  Because she is behind the computer screen there is a lot of room for taking it up a notch and taking dramatic risks. If everyone lies onlinethen there is room for the character to expand her character, and give us audacious gestures that defines the character, all in line with moving toward her objective.

Ben Gavin (Tommy Marine Sniper) has an appealing look but needs work on the man that is a Marine in the way he carries his body on and offstage.  His character is a fantasy, he is military, and he neednt be sashaying on and offstage. A military man in his boots sends a strong message. He needs to take her in a way a Marine takes a woman and also he needs to figure out how to do that and in a way that heightens the fantasy.

Kathleen OGrady (Cheryl Montgomery) has the task of being the mental suffering wife. She tries her best to please her man but manages to make a remark about his erectile dysfunction. (This is a moment that should get more traction but passes by with hardly a notice or a glance.) After finding out about the affair, its not enough to tell her partner to get rid of the computer, by this time she has exhausted civility, she should rip the computer from his arms and start throwing his clothes out the window along with the panties, all in the same breath.  (In a manner of speaking.)

Julia Arian (Gwen Montgomery) does some very good work on stage.  Her concentration is laudable and the manner in which she handles her sixteen-year-old character is remarkable. She is an actress that captures the light and treats moments like they were new to her.  She does not mask the ordinary and that is a very good thing. 

John-Paul Lavoisier plays Alan Garrett.  He is good looking, and has little to do other than play along.  His relationship with the TALHOTBLOND does not go beyond the computer screen. And the other characters around him force the action when it is Garrett that should be generating a strong action with a stronger objective. Garrett is the man and has the right to take whatever he wants if only to playfully provoke in his game of life.  

Oscar Cain Rodriguez (Pete) plays the young man in the office.  Although he is not very clear about his position (a gofer) or someone who wants to move up the ladder.   He is an instigator without really knowing what he is doing, or what he has done.  Rodriguez is very young, has a charm about him, and has room and time to grow.

Mary Carrig plays Rose Sheiler and does an exceptional job as the character, staying in the moment,  and giving us a good look at the truth. 

Lane Compton, Jack Noonan, Jim Poole, Shelby Kocee, Rachel Pollack, Presley Christine, Feroz Quazi are alternates and understudies who did not perform the night I was there.

Kathrine Bates is probably one of the hardest working writers in Los Angeles today. Every time I turn around she working on something or has another production up on its feet.  She never stops and this is a good thing. The line everybody lies onlinefascinates me and I think this makes for a good through line for this tenebrous tragedy.  But if thats the case, the characters lies must be directed through the computer. The action and reaction plays an important part in making the relationships work. On this night there was a curious air of detachment from the characters onstage and sometimes that happens.  But, in retrospect, the characters need further development; we need to know what drives them.  One example is the relationship between Thomas and Pete.  Who is Pete?  And what is the force that propels him. Is he a gofer, the son to the boss, just a kid who liked to see other people get in trouble?  Why was he there?  The male characters were not fully developed, while the female characters had more layers. Odd. 

Beverly Olevin directs this mad affair.  On this night the actors never really find themselves embedded in the characters.  If Thomas Montomerys objective is to have Jenny, then he must stop at nothing to get her.  And Jenny, who never progresses beyond the two costume changes, should be working just as hard to get her man.  Jenny can be much more imaginative behind the computer screen.  Also, the computer dialogue on screen doesnt work.  The words are coming out faster than the characters dialogue.  Maybe use it once and then lose it.  We get the point.  Also, the young marine is too tame to not be all over the figments of their imaginations. Actors should use the fourth wall to reach an objective and little else. There is too much of this in the play. 

When the truth is revealed in the end, the two characters should be closer together shoulder to shoulder, perhaps one in handcuffs, the expressions revealed on their faces, and the imaginary character should stand between them, smiling.  At least, that is how I see it in my imagination.

Nicely produced by Robert Cannon, Michael R. Myers, and John Ruskin.

Other crewmembers are as follows:

Production Manager Mike Reilly
Stage Manager Nicole Millar
Lighting Designer Mike Reilly
Graphic Design Eddie Jauregu, Sierra, and Amelia Mulkey
Sound/Projection Designer Marc Olevin
Set Designer/Dressing Jeff Faeth
Casting Paul ruddy
Set Builder Cliff Wagner
Costumes Sarah Figoten Wilson

Publicity Judith Borne

Run. Drag someone who vicariously lives the chat room life and show them there is more to life than fingers pecking away. 

Reservations:  310-397-3244

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