Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pain by Paul Coates

Paul Coates & Delta Rae Giordano In PAIN City

By Joe Straw

My sister is dying, stage 4 cancer, it’s everywhere.

She is in good spirits and laughs all the time.   

I call her on my way home from work on most days, to see how she is doing.  Her phone doesn’t work.  Well, she can’t make calls; she can only receive them.  It’s one of those “pay as you go” phones and the paying part is just part of the problem.  

And at this point in her life it’s the little things, like getting a phone that works that become an insurmountable obstacle to her daily living.     

Also, I’ve been speaking to her about her end of life and what she should be doing. Well, she’s headstrong and hardly listens to anything I have to say. “Get a new phone. Sign your will.  Take care of the cremation stuff and, for the love of God, call the real estate lady.” 

She takes the notes; writes big, because she is blind in one eye and can hardly see from the other. Her thinking is not all that clear, after the stroke.

She is homebound, can’t drive, and relies on others for help. Little gets done.

I’ve arranged food to be delivered to her home, Meals on Wheels, for which I am thankful.  

But, I am numb with pain at this point.  I can only do what I can do from California. And I’ve come to the conclusion that dying is easy, it’s just that the living part is so exasperating and painful.  - Narrator

The Theatre Academy- Los Angeles City College presented Pain, a world premiere written and directed by Paul Coates on Saturday November 7th, 2015 in the Caminito Theatre.

Walking into the theatre taking my seats, I noticed five dissimilar chairs on stage.  Black music stands, remind of me of some incredibly happy times, and are carefully placed in front of the chairs.    

And, PAIN, drawn in what appeared to be a bright red lipstick, was projected on the upstage wall. 

Five chairs – not really what I expected – seeing other incarnations of this reading, photographs, on Facebook. I surmised this would be a scaled back version, an intimate night, with an intimate cast. 

When life moves, things change in a heartbeat. And as the lights go up, five chairs suddenly become more than twenty chairs.  And actors move fastidiously, sidestepping to not bump into the furniture and land on their place like blebs on a spider’s web. 

Elizabeth Reilly, David Youse, Bill Barker and the cast of PAIN City.

The show is to be presented in the style of “Reader’s Theatre” and the actors, most knowing their dialogue while some read, will present in a fashion that was comfortable to them.  They are made up of professors, professional actors, and students.

Pain by Paul Coates is a labyrinth, a web, a dollop of interconnecting nerve that is captured by the emotional core of the willing and unwilling. And Pain is also a deeply fascinating work of art in which the characters are finding ways to relieve the pain through human interaction.   Their interconnected physical lives are linked in various ways, and in life’s fashion, and their emotional connectivity lingers long after they have parted ways.  

At the core of Pain are the feelings one releases when caught up in the emotion of someone’s agony.  Some situations are easily identifiable when watching human interactions in the theatre.  It’s the thing that places you in their time and space, caught in the character’s expression. At times, Pain is funny, and other times you are invited to be riveted inside the life of the character.

The interesting part of it all is that Pain has no boundaries, and one anticipates the emotional solution from the interconnecting weave.  And that is what makes Pain so fascinating – it is filled with delightful surprises.   

People come and go with their pain.  

Pain begins with the loss of a child, Chloe (not seen).  She dies suddenly under the care of another, Becky (Persephone Laird). Everyone regarded Chloe a problem child and no one is sure how she died, just that it happened.  This doesn’t sit to well with the mother of the child, Linda (Rene Michelle).  She is grieving, in her way, and she lets it be known that she can never see that childcare woman again.

Linda confines to her best friend Mark (David Youse).

“Can you see a hole?” – Linda

“Yes, I do.” – Mark

In these trying times, only a friend would comfort her in the best way he knows how.

Moments later, a father, Frankie (Al Rossi) buries his son, Danny (Not seen) and deeply mourns him, carries his photo around while neglecting his other son, Seth (Bryson Jones Allman). Seth, in deep turmoil (he’s right there!), is at a loss as to why he doesn’t count in their relationship and appears to have emotional problems of his own.  

The nurse (Christelle Baguidy) tells Seth that his father is doing better.  She knows pain firsthand being brought in 17 years ago with 200 broken bones ultimately relieved by the morphine drip.  

But, Seth doesn’t feel anything.

“What do you want, Seth?” – young man

“I want to feel pain.” – Seth

And while Seth might not feel pain, his sister Chris (Jessica Atkinson) is as she is screaming in labor, too late for the epidural while the nurse is speaking suggestively about her husband.  

Angela 2 (Megan Gomez) plays basketball and is not sure about her emotional life and her physical needs, why she can’t communicate with others around her, the pain of being isolated, forgetting there is someone watching her.  And that someone is Miles (Michael Macrae) who playfully throws a paper airplane clear across infinity (the stage) directly into her hands, professes his love, but is completely misunderstood by the receiver. (Blame the young writer.)

“Miles is inside my heart… I hate him.  I love him.” – Angela 2

Corinne (Elizabeth Reilly) is not related to the bartender (Brendan Broms) but imparts the information that one does to a complete stranger serving drinks.  The bartender is a receptacle for information for barflies to belly up and unload a lot of pain.  The Oral Surgeon (Fred Fate) joins the party to relieve the nonsense he has to put up with.  A little mind numbing liquid refreshment would do his trick.

And then, coming out of the proverbial wings, is Phil (Paul Coates) playing Willie Lohman in Death of A Salesman. Phil is forgetting his lines and he doesn’t know if he is up to the task of playing the role after the recent passing of his wife Susan (not seen) but the director (Fred Fate) convinces him that now is the time to do this, that he has to work, he has the emotional requirement now to convey the pain in the role. The director implores Phil not to leave.

The first act draws to a close at this point and the particular scene is so wonderful that everyone in the audience takes a deep breath before leaving the theatre.   

Reader’s theatre is an acute instrument but ideally I would have wanted the actors up on their feet and interacting to get a feel of the relationships and a sense of place. Still, this night served a purpose – a benefit for the Los Angeles Community College – and a chance at least to hear the words of Paul Coates.

Fred Fate does some marvelous work here, not only in this scene but also as the wacked out oral surgeon, a dotard, and not working on all cylinders.  Fate is a master craftsman, a teacher of the craft, and outstanding on the stage. He puts it all out there that at times his face turns bright red, hair drenched, sweat pouring from his face, and one gets a little concerned for his safety at his emotional outpouring.  Fate is wonderful to watch.   

Paul Coates, the actor, also does some marvelous work on stage, pushing a lot of emotional buttons, and never letting go of the pain.  It’s the mark of a true craftsman when everyone is feeling what he is feeling inside.

Lisa Beezley plays Lisa and Charlotte, the agent. Juggling is what agents do.  Ten things on her mind while trying to make the deal, book the client, manage your life (what little there is), and make sure the employees do the right thing. Beezley is a remarkable actor that manages the agent’s life, the employee, and her mother all with an exquisite finesse.

Brendan Broms plays Steve, the bartender.  Broms has a nice presence on stage and plays host to other characters at the bar.  (If this hadn’t been Reader’s theatre, I would have included a bar center stage and had the other actors belly up to the bar.) Other than that, one wasn’t sure how this character fits in the overall scheme of the play.

David Youse & April Audia in PAIN City

“…he was a mean son of a bitch, but I loved him.  I’m 53, Marty.  I loved you but it’s time to cut you lose.” - Elaine

April Audia plays Elaine, one of Steve’s customers.   She imparts her pain, telling him, in a manner of speaking, that her husband committed suicide.  It’s not a particularly good time with their three kids in grade school.   Despite the passing of time, she doesn’t seem too broken up over it. It is something that happens, life. Audia’s performance was natural and nuanced, profound, and to the point.  It was simply, a marvelous job.

Christelle Baguidy played the Nurses, various nurses for various situations.  And in those roles she did really well. In a slight call out for more diversity, one would have like to have had Baguidy have a more substantial role. That aside, Baguidy is extremely appealing and natural on stage. She is also stunning.

Megan Gomez plays Angela 2, a basketball player who may or may not be in love.  A clearer objective would help understand the character. We know that she is in love.  But the reason for her conflict is puzzling and we need to understand her predicament. And, if she knew how to handle a basketball, convince us that she is a player that would also help with the character’s intention.

Michael Macrae plays Miles, the young man who is in love with the basketball player, but really doesn’t understand her final outcome.  The most he can do is tell his boss.  But if he is not feeling it then we are not feeling it as well.  Still, Macrae has a good look but more work needs to be done.

Persephone Laird plays Becky, the woman who was in charge of the child who died. There is something wrong with Becky and I’m not sure we got to the bottom of it during this reading. With the death of the child she loses everything, her business, her job, and even her own kids but feels little about what happened.  Or, so, that is the interpretation I got on this night. This performance did not work for me and I think it has something to do with apology and relationship to her counterpart.  

Al Rossi plays Frankie, the father who carries the picture of his dead son, neglecting his other children.  This is definitely one role that I would have liked the actors up on their feet on.  Pain is a private moment, but having it private in this instance, doesn’t work to its best advantage, especially when there are two other lives in play here, his children.   What good is pain if you cannot share it?

“Once upon a time there was a little girl Dina who had some issues…she looked like a princess but felt like a prince.” – Dean

Frank Salinas plays Dean.  Salinas has a good look and an interesting way about the stage.  But, the character Dean requires more definition, a nuanced personality, mistakes in mannerism, and a stronger core. The play is called Pain and we’ve really got to feel it from this character.

David Youse plays Mark as a character that you want to run to, if only to share your pain.  Youse is a very appealing actor and makes the most of Mark, a character which one is not totally convinced of his overall objective.

Bill Barker does yeoman’s work as Mr. Goldstein, the friendly, trusting patient to an out of control dentist.

Lisa Beezley, Michael MacRae, Ben Rovner and the cast of PAIN City

Christopher Callen as Angela has exceptional appeal on stage and was wonderful to watch. Delta Rae Giordano plays Vicky for whom the stage seemed comfortable to her. The painful presence of someone not forgotten.   Maria Rangel was very appealing as Isla. Elizabeth Reilly plays Corinne and Ben Rovner also has a nice turn as Coal.

An interesting thing about this type of theatre is understanding the relationships as the actors read or perform behind music stands.  Preferably one would like the actors on their feet throughout, attached by a string or lights to completely understand their relationship, positioned in a way to have them in and out of the scene, defined in such a way that we get the relationship e.g., father/son, father/daughter, employer/employee, etc.  We see, in traditional theatre, how relationships manifest themselves in place and in the passage of time. We get the actor/director relationship, the dentist/patient relationship because of their proximity of space. 

The other types of relationships we have to figure out, like Dean and Dina.  The program said, “Dina is friends with Dean”.  My impression was that Dina had become Dean. Also, Mark had an ex-lover Randall (we do not see) and Randall had two sisters Charlotte and Corinne.  But’s Mark’s relationship to Charlotte and Corinne was minimal and I don’t remember them being together in the same place.

That aside Paul Coate’s direction was marvelous, and his words always hit home, the natural chords of life. And the play manages to hit those chords. But one would ultimately like to have the final moment where the point of the play, the through line, hits solid. Still, I loved the work and felt the pain, deeply.

The production manager was Jenny Bacon.

Run! Run! Run!  See it in New York in the next incarnation.  

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