Monday, May 25, 2015

The Woodsman by Steven Fechter

Tim Cummings and Joey Nicole Thomas

By Joe Straw

Tim Cummings came out at curtain call, a slow methodical walk, and took his bow. He grasped the hand of his fellow actors, and with no smile, he bowed once again to the very appreciative sold-out-standing-room-only audience. 

This is probably something that I should not make too much of, after all actors are still in character and sometimes they slowly come down and out of character.  Also, demanding roles take a while to come back to ones self, before they step out of the theatre and go on with the night.  

What Cummings was thinking during the curtain call, I couldn’t know.  But knowing actors, he probably thought the night did not come off as expected, that moments did not play out this night as in other nights. Possibly he was still thinking about the one crucial event that did not hit the mark. 

The smile of satisfaction is a hard thing to bring when you work for perfection. And maybe that is why the smile did not emerge this night. If those were his thoughts, the events of the night couldn’t be any farther from that truth. – The Narrator.   

Tim Cummings, John Klopping, Gregor Manns, Katie Pelensky, Cesar Ramos, Joey Nicole Thomas, and director Jeremy Lelliott can all take another bow for an amazing night of theatre.  

The Coeurage Theatre Company presents The Woodsman by Steven Fechter and directed by Jeremy Lelliott through June 13, 2015 at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café.  

Deep within a forest of thought, a man emerges from a lonely spot only to find that his mind is in the thicket of wicked feelings.  The imagined soughing and rustling of the trees contribute to the cluttering thoughts racing through his mind.  He is imprisoned, unable to move, mentally wedged by the boscage that surrounds his limbs and traps his very being.  He is in the wildernesses of mental anguish that tears at his ability to survive in a normal environment.   

Walter (Tim Cummings) is mortared to the chair in a therapy session.  Walter, the woodsman, is uncomfortable in his plaid shirt, his kaki pants, and his tan shoes.  Ira Rosen (John Klopping) sits opposite him, a faceless man (looking upstage), speaking to him, as his therapist.

“So, How are you adjusting?” – Rosen

“I’m adjusting okay.” – Walter

“And the new apartment?” - Rosen

“The apartment’s okay.” -  Walter

Well, Walter is not really okay; he is still in the forest of bad thoughts; and the medication he is taking gives him headaches.  And to top that off, Rosen’s personality makes Walter’s skin itch.

Rosen, in an accusatory tone, says that maybe it’s because of his name.

Caught slightly off-guard, Walter says that anti-Semitism is not his problem and then turns the tables on Rosen.

“Are you okay, Rosen?” – Walter

“I’m fine.” – Rosen

“Honest?” – Walter

Rosen has been trying to connect with his Jewish identity and has found out that his Aunt died in Auschwitz. She was just a little girl.  (The mental battles fought everyday).

They are both caught in the little known path of the forest. Walter moves away from this subject. They both do.

Naytheless, Rosen wants Walter to keep a diary, to paper a personal journal, but Walter has his reasons for not wanting to put pencil to paper; it has sent many men to prison by way of evidence.

Rosen, understanding slightly, tells him to think about it.

Wanting to get better, Walter warms to the idea of writing.  And so he writes to his friend, Kirby, if only he knew where to place the letters knowing that: one, the letters would not get sent, and two, Kirby is dead, a voice silenced six feet under.   

Later, by happenstance, Carlos (Cesar Ramos), Walter’s brother-in-law, brings in a nice cherry wood table.

Tim Cummings and Cesar Ramos 

Walter lovingly appreciates this table.  He had foraged lumberyards to find the perfect cherry wood and built the table from scratch for the perfect wedding present.  

“The wood still pulses with life.  It’s like when you look at this table you don’t see a piece of furniture… you see a living thing.” - Walter

The drawer would be a great place for the letters to Kirby.  

Walter made the table for his sister, Annette (not seen)—the one with the nice smelling hair, as a wedding present. But because of bad memories, Annette wanted to throw it out. Carlos saved it, put it in the attic, and now brought it over as a gesture of goodwill, to give him a piece of furniture for his sparse apartment.  

But now Carlos moves over to the window and pointing to the obvious he mentions the grade school down below.  He stares at Walter and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to be here. There is too much temptation.  Walter says that he is supposed to be 100 feet away from children.  His new third floor apartment is 135 feet away.  Still, it is extremely close in Carlos’ mind.

“I’m just thinking that maybe it’s not so healthy being this close.  You know, to a school.” – Carlos   

Carlos says his girl is turning twelve the following week but he can’t invite Walter to the birthday party.  He is still working on getting Annette to come around.

After Carlos leaves, Walter is enmeshed in the forest again, looking beyond the window into the schoolyard.  He writes to Kirby about a man in his twenties, hanging around the playground, talking to boys, giving them candy bars.  And his mind goes back into the forest, to the young girl (Katie Pelensky), backlit by the moon, who temps him, in a dressing gown, a terrible figment of his imagination.

Things take a dramatic turn when Nikki (Joey Nicole Thomas), Walter’s co-worker takes up the Walter’s invitation to have a drink at his place. Nikki can see something in his personal makeup and will stop at nothing to get the information.

“You’re damaged.  Something happened to you.” – Nikki  

This is by far Jeremy Lelliott’s finest work as director.  The moments play out to perfection, the acting is as natural and compelling as any theatre in Los Angeles, and it all works to such a degree that it is a riveting ninety-minutes of pure theatre. This is certainly the finest drama I’ve seen this year.

Tim Cummings is outstanding as Walter. Walter is torn because of his past and the emotions that plague him today. And there are enticements all around him.  Bringing those thoughts under control is almost too much to handle, his secret is too much to keep to himself, he is at his mental end, and all along wanting to do the right thing.  Cummings gives the character the right balance, of trying to find the right thing to do, when the images in his intellect are telling him something else. Cummings journey of character is an emotional tour de force and a performance that should not be missed.

“…this girl. I see…this girl.  Not a real girl.  She’s in the back of my brain…just out of sight.” – Walter

John Klopping as Rosen provides the right balance, brings the right measure to a sometimes-out-of-control patient.  But he has problems of his own.  He worries about his past, his life, and family and has little patience for the dregs of humanity.  He doesn’t care if the patient gets better or worse. But, in the end, there is remarkable change where Rosen turns the corner and allows himself to help.  Klopping is wonderful as Rosen.

Tim Cummings and Gregor Manns

Gregor Manns is also outstanding as Lucas, an out-of-control cop, with an affinity for Al Pacino movie lines. Lucas is part of the social fabric of policing determined to keep his streets clean. He will go after anyone and is willing to put him or her back in prison for one little mistake.  Oddly, he wants that person to make the mistake but he doesn’t want to dig any deeper than his front pockets.  There are a lot of wonderful subtle moments in Manns’ performance.  And he is a cop who is watching every move just for the sake of a collar and his job security.

“What’s your badge number?” – Walter

“My badge number is shut the f**k up!” – Lucas  

Katie Pelensky is the girl (played by an adult) that plagues his memories, wearing an almost transparent nightgown, in the moonlight. She is the memory of confused girl, a somnolent figure of sorts, or a stalking nightmare that Walter cannot shake.   Pelensky also plays Robin, a little girl, alone in the park watching and knowing a lot about birds.  She is in the park alone for a reason and after releasing the information she quails inwardly.  It is heartbreaking.  Pelensky is fantastic in the role.   

Occasionally one runs across an actor that by outside appearance doesn’t look like much but when he speaks he gives a profound nuance to the words.  And in the manner of presentation, there is change in the relationship between actor and audience. (I rarely see this.)  Cesar Ramos as Carlos is that kind of actor who is very specific in his choices, mannerism, and his objective.  There is also something very sinister about this character in the way he interacts with Walter.  He is an enticer, an Iago to Othello, and someone who wants to cause a great deal of trouble in very subtle ways.  Ramos is terrific in the role.

Joey Nicole Thomas is pretty incredible as Nikki, a smart woman that comes off manly to overcome the talk in the shipping warehouse.  She is a strong silent type in a gothic manly sort of way. That aside, what really comes off in Thomas performance is her sincerity, and the total commitment to the role. She has to know about the man before she stays with him and she displays dogged determination to get that information no matter the cost.  When she finds out, she is shocked beyond comprehension.  This is an absolutely wonderful moment in the performance. And also, this was a remarkable performance that I will carry with me for a long time.  

I’ve run out of words to describe The Woodsman by Steven Fechter only to say it is a wonderful play where the words mean so much to each character.   Shelly Winter is known to have said “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”  The words and actions were definitely on the stage on this night.

Other members of this production in a dual cast are Julianne Donelle as Nikki, Mark Jacobson as Rosen, Nardeep Khurmi as Lucas, Christopher Salazar as Carlos, Erin Sanzo as Girl/Robin and Venny Carranza as Walter alternate.

Other members of this wonderful crew are as follows:

Costume Designer: Emily Brown-Kucera
Sound Designer:  Joseph V. Calarco
Lighting Designer:  Michael Kozachenko
Stage Manager:  Emily Goodall
Assistant Director:  Ken Werther
Fight Director:  Tyler Vaughn
Press Representative:  Ken Werther Publicity
Graphic Design: Ryan Wagner
Production Photographer: Nardeep Khurmi, John Klopping

Wow!  Two shows in a row that have absolutely blown my socks off!

Run!  Run! Run!  And take someone who has done his or her time in prison and is really trying to change. You’ll have an interesting ride back home.

Also, grab yourself a cheese sandwich at the café.  It was delicious.

Reservations:  323-944-2165

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