Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mine by Ryan Surratt

Nicole Steinwedell and Ryan Surratt

By Joe Straw

The Moth Theatre is a surprising venue. The work is thought provoking and unique.  A theatrical night at the Moth always invokes serious discussion afterwards.   

John Markland’s studio of creative thought, his coterie of thespians, and the thorough emotional work from the actors give balance to this art, especially when the actors bleed a passionate uniqueness to their roles.

Moth Theatre Company in association with Rydemption Entertainment present the opening of a new play “Mine” by Ryan Surratt and directed by Justin Huen through April 16th, 2016.  Produced by Ryan Surratt and Justin Huen.

Set Designer:  Justin Huen

Justin Huen is also the Set Designer. So, many hats were worn by so few, and given the climate of small theatre something has to give.   The modest apartment is nicely designed, long and narrow, thin and confining, barely enough for two, and cramped for three, making one think there would be problems with artists performing upstage and downstage. Huen, the director, manages the space effectively.

As the play begins, Joseph (Ryan Surratt) hurriedly enters from another room, a bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment.  He throws the books he is carrying onto the coffee table.  These books are law books. He is agitated for reasons that are not entirely clear.

And finding a quiet space to study is what Joseph wants. But there is always a distraction.  The wide screen, a thick bulky television set is rattling political noise and creating a disturbance.  All of that noise is easily dismissed with the flick of a remote.

Looking at a piece of paper, Joseph, sets it on fire, only briefly before he smoothers the flames. What could he be thinking with this big round charred hole in the middle of the study papers? Life’s pressures have gotten the best of him.

Then, the phone rings.

“Hey, …nothing.”  - Joseph

She doesn’t have a name.  “Babe” is a generic one for now.  Still, over the phone, she’s a loving tease, and cajoles him into singing “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews, a song the heartiest of singers can’t sing in tune.  Joseph fails miserably but gives it his best.

“Melanie” (Nicole Steinwedell), aka “Babe” wants to go skiing. But Joseph doesn’t have any money and he needs to study. The phone call ends.

Ah, a moment of quiet solitude. Suddenly his roommate Shane (James Oliver) rushes in through the front door.  He runs past Joseph with a tan canvas bag in tow and takes it into his bedroom. Frantically, it only takes seconds for him to come back into the room.

“Do you have a gun?” – Shane

“No.” - Joseph

A thing to point out - Shane is acting rather oddly.

“Some days are just right.” – Shane

L. Ryan Surratt and James Oliver 

Shane has a secret to divulge but he needs to take care of his body and while he is sitting on the toilet, Shane yells to Joseph to read to him, it helps him, concentrate. Law materials are fine.  

Now upon discovery Shane realizes there’s no more toilet paper on the roll, something he had repeatedly been told to get at the store. Shane tells Joseph to get him a paper towel from the kitchen.

Afterwards Shane tentatively walks into the living room and turns on the television.

Joseph is working and does not want the TV on and it’s his TV. But Shane offers to buy it for $800.00 and put it in his room. The trouble is that Shane doesn’t have and has never had money.  He still owes Joseph for the three months of his portion of the rent.   

Their relationship, at this point, is terse.

Suddenly, Shane doles out the money from his pocket.  He has a lot of money, in fact, for lots of things.   

But before Joseph can figure out about the money, Melanie comes in with groceries bags for the dinner she is going to make; she has gotten all of the ingredients but forgot the cheese.  There is a little time for canoodling on the couch, Joseph studying all the while rubbing her feet. But there’s a bickering edge in their conversation about love and work, and working to love, and having enough, and their relationship.  

“What if I had sex with Tom Cruise?”  Melanie

Interesting comment but at the present, nothing is getting accomplished and Joseph goes out for the cheese that Melanie forgot.   

The thing that makes Surratt’s play fascinating is the ability to see more than the page provides, the subtext, a deeper level of emotional commitment. The play is approximately 70 minutes and I think I have to give some things away to express an opinion.  Yes, it’s just an opinion.

Ryan Surratt (Joseph) does fine work as an actor.  It is always good when Surratt is expressing a viable truth.  Curiosity is a genuine ingredient in his character and adding more of this to the character will help. Pick the moments where action requires getting out of control and find the answers by being supremely curious and reacting to the answers. Also, find the moment that defines the relationship with the significant other and with the best friend.

James Oliver (Shane) reminds me of a young Glen Ford and you can’t go wrong with that look. There are a number of choices one can work with this character. Defining the relationships without projecting would really help the character.  Don’t give too much away, and pick your moments.  

Nicole Steinwedell (Melanie) is an amaranthine creature of charm and she has her moments. Melanie is steadfast in her resolve in wanting only one thing, Joseph.  She is a ticking time bomb and her biological clock is turning fast. However things would be a lot livelier if she wanted three things – Joseph, Shane, and the money. Melanie takes the money at first, giving away a bit of her character.  But why not go for more?  

The program’s graphics makes it look like there are two men coming out of a mine and is slightly illusory.

This is a show that deals mainly with relationships and “what is mine”.  Who belongs to whom? What’s mine is not yours.  What’s yours is not ours and can never be ours. The program notes that it is also and “a weight triggered explosive device”.  Yes, that’s true.  It is also the thing that initiates the end of a relationship.  

The main ideal of the play is about processions; “mine” and can conceivably work without the phone calls.  Having the three on stage during the course of the play would increase the benefits appreciably. Because, in reality, this is a relationship play, and defining the relationship on stage would help the actors develop the moments into a significant piece.   What you don’t want is to have character ambiguity.  Trying to understand “crazy” is too time consuming. Defining the characters and their relationships would heighten the tensions until the dramatic conclusion is reached.   

In Huen’s direction, the actions on stage are telegraphed before the relationships are fully developed. For example, the extremely agitated Joseph slamming down the books, the crazy acting Shane after he has retrieved the bag, and Shane’s telegraphed relationship with Melanie.

The scene in the bathroom takes us nowhere and its relationship to “mine” is a mystery. (Not that I’ve thought about it too much, but I’ve never known anyone have trouble using the bathroom and not being able to concentrate unless being read to.  Running water, yes.  Reading, no. Possibly, I’ve led a sheltered life.)

Melanie must have feelings for Shane to heighten the relationship with Joseph.  This makes the reason for leaving the cheese at the store all the more interesting. The moving of the TV must be done with the idea of getting Shane and Melanie closer together, and must be provocative. They both have much to lose if found out.

These are just slight adjustments that would make this production soar.  Keep the dialogue that works and throw out the dialogue that does not progress the through line of the play, mine.  Generally the audience will tell you what works and what does not work.  

Lastly, all three characters should be on stage for the final scene, each fighting for what is theirs (mine) until the final conclusion.  

There enough humor in Surratt’s first play to offset the drama, the ending. The night is extremely enjoyable for this new play.  Could there be room for improvement?  Yes, there could.

Lauren Kelly is the Stage Manager and Ken Werther did the publicity for the show.

Run!  And take a take a friend that loves ambiguity in relationships.  



Phone:  (213) 249-2062

The Moth Theatre
4359 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

The entrance is behind the theatre on Heliotrope.

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