Monday, May 9, 2016

Weapons by Chris Collins

L - R Paige Herschell, Matt Kirkwood, Madelynn Fattibene, and Katie May Porter

Guns kill over thirty thousand people a year. Shsss! Don’t tell anyone. - Narrator

In the play Weapons by Chris Collins, everyone had access to that firearm which, by happenstance, was casually left on the mantle above the fireplace. Before the night was through, the service revolver, a residual accouterment of a police force job, was first in the hands of former officer, Paul (Cris D’Annunzio), who almost kills his brother, Bill (Matt Kirkwood). Second, Sarah, a recalcitrant daughter (Paige Herschell), points it at her father.  Third, the youngest sister, Lara (Jodi Wofford), appears ready to participate in some kind of glorified shootout.

Fogbank Production presented the world premiere of Weapons written by Chris Collins, directed by Kiff Scholl, and produced by Racquel Lehrman at The Lounge Theatre which ended its run May 8, 2016.

Despite the constant display of the weapon, one gets the impression that this show wasn’t about a gun. A gun represents the end of all things and they are not quite there, yet. 

This is the story of a San Francisco working class family in refined grimness caught defining their existence through their rustic volubility.

What does this mean?

Well, one doesn’t need a gun to inflict pain, especially emotional pain. Words are a form of battery here, and generally, the damage is done before the final breathless word is uttered. These words are a knife that pierces deep into the demonstrative being, leaving an exposed festering gash that never heals.     

Human interaction – the sources for great love and pain. And this is where one finds a refulgent setting; who thought that theatre could be this interesting!

The San Francisco Bay is the source of the tugboat’s long horn.  The creeping searchlight, slow and measured at night, moves past the shaded window.  The night casts a long ghostly silhouette that sails across the walls of the home.  This is a home that has seen better days wonderfully created by Pete Hickok, Set Designer.      

And as that house, near the bay settles, a noise rattles the occupants.  Paul, in the darkness, takes out his gun.  It is an overly extreme measure to find the source, which could be an intruder, or an apparition from a not too distant past.  Or, he takes it out because ultimately he has nothing to lose.  May (Madelynn Fattiene), his girlfriend, steps out of the bedroom, wondering where he is but she hears a noise at the front door and retreats back into the bedroom.

The front door rattles at first, then a key, until the door opens. Bill quietly steps in, sits on the couch, and lays down to sleep.

Meanwhile Paul comes back into the room, sees the dark figure on the couch, and almost fires into his brother’s body.

“What the hell?” - Bill

Paul says he was expecting Bill earlier and he doesn’t have to sleep on the couch; he can sleep in Sarah’s room.

Sarah left unexpectedly, after her mother died, for unexplained reasons.    

Paul doesn’t seem too broken up over his wife’s death a year ago.  He confides to Bill that he has been seeing and hearing things. But now he is more concerned for his daughters, especially his youngest daughter, Lara, who has confidence issues following the loss of her mother.

Paul tells Bill that he is retired from the force and the bar he owns is doing okay. Bill is skeptical about things he’s hearing; after all there’s the bounced check Paul sent him.  Something is not right with his older brother Paul and it’s hard to believe anything he says nowadays.   

“Sarah blames me for something.” – Paul

This is possibly the reason Sarah left although the reason is only clear to her.

Paul says he went to confession for the first time in thirty years. (This is actually an important moment that gets little attention.) Why he went or, what he needed to confess at this time in his life, is only evident to him, the priest, and his creator, and he’s not telling Bill anything.

Paul says the confession reminded of the time in the eighth grade when he would get aroused at confession.  Then he would confess while staring at Patricia Faulker’s body (not seen), the girl who died.  They continue to reminisce.

Bill wakes in the early morning to the sound of May.  May gives him an awkward hug and exchanges pleasantries. Laura then sees her uncle, Bill; she shares that there is something wrong with her dad and she doesn’t know what it is. There is no money and he is broke and sadder.  

When Paul returns from his morning walk, Bill confesses that things aren’t going well in his life.  His world is on the rocks, he’s single, and even worse, he’s broke.  He is a TV actor who is not getting the roles he once got and the $30 residual check is just not cutting it anymore.

“Linda left me.” – Bill

And for that bit of confession, Paul pushes Bill down to the floor and Paul is rather surprised that Bill went down so fast.  (Another extremely important moment that should take us to another level in their relationship.) Bill says it’s his knee but, let’s face it, Paul is built like he goes to the gym at least three times a week.

(I’m not sure how a character that drinks that much, looks like that.)

In any case, Paul says he ran into Ellen Yang (Katie May Porter) at the bar and she will be joining them for dinners sometime later.  

Chris Collins’ play was interesting on many levels.  First and foremost were the characters, who were mostly confused about their place in life, and who probably didn’t have an idea of where they were going. One always waits for the  “Ah ha” moment in a play, the moment that gives a definitive stamp to the production, and that just never came.  Certainly in real life, those things ring true, but for the stage something has to happen, it has to be clear, and we need to get a better understanding of the why.  A number of moments worked in this production.  Still, character motivation is key here to put a definitive stamp on the through line.  

There is a lot to like about Cris D’Annunzio’s Paul. D’ Annunzio brings a historical richness to the character, a man one could believe, cares and loves his children, and wants the best for them.  But as the character, Paul is having multiple problems.  Simply put, Paul is going through hell.  He is hearing things at night.  He revels in the gun even though he’s not thinking clearly.  There’s too much on his mind, the bar is not doing well, the sexual harassment charges linger, and worse he has been fired from the force without his pension after 27 years.  There is a lot to think about, so what does he want?  What is that specific thing pulling him into depths of hades?  What crises is he trying to solve acting in a manner unbefitting his character?  Why does he do it? Also, this is a character that is hard to understand because he never tells the truth, and he never comes clean.  No, the sexual harassment was a misunderstanding. The bar is going well.  I don’t’ know why Sarah left.  At this point in his life, he is not a reliable reporter, and this all makes for a deeply fascinating character, but with issues that are never resolved.   

Madelynn Fattibene provides solid support for the character May.  May is the girlfriend who sees this relationship as her only hope of being a wife and a mother to Paul’s child.  Fattibene creates a carefully nuanced character, one that is aware of every minute detail of the things going on around her, with the exception of her boyfriend’s motivation. When she doesn’t get what she came for she decides, rather forcefully, to leave the relationship.  Wonderful work.

Paige Herschell plays Sarah who suffers from emotional issues and alcohol addiction.  This was the most confusing character of the lot.  She leaves home, comes home; she’s getting married, she’s not getting married; she tells her sister that she has been accepted to law school while taking hits from the Jack Daniels bottle in her pocket. And she does this all under the influence. Herschell does not provide enough life into a character that is going to law school, or that she is even capable of it. Why does she pull the gun on her father? What is her objective? It’s not enough to be unsatisfied with your life and wallow in your misery - that doesn’t take a character anywhere. Instead, creative choices serve a character when the objective is clear and when it is clear the actions ring true.   

Matt Kirkwood comes in and tries to save the day as Bill but ends up not getting the answers he’s came for. His brother is constantly giving him money, in check form, but those checks never clear the bank. Bill is curious about his brother’s condition but never really gets to the root of the problem.  If he is there to save him and the girls, he should do so in a timely manner.  He is not sufficiently curious as his brother does some outlandish things; passing those things off does not progress the scene or the play. Their relationship should come to a dramatic resolution. He possibly comes as the savior, but in reality, he is worse off than the people he has come to save. Kirkwood does some very fine character work here and more things are needed to pull this character off.

Katie May Porter does some outstanding work as Ellen.  Most interesting thing about her is she seems oblivious of the relationships around her; she is oblivious that Paul, who is hanging all over her, and who is currently living with May.  Ellen has been in and out of relationships, and although she has a heart of gold, ideally she wants May out of the way.  Ellen’s objective may be subtle, maybe too subtle, but she definitely wants more. Porter does some outstanding work.  

Jodi Wofford is Lara and can get away with playing a younger character because of her size. Wofford has a quirky blend of mannerisms that can easily switch from comedy to drama.  This plays well to her strengths on stage, of understanding her motives, and her physical self. It is a wonderful performance.

All right now this comes down to Kiff Scholl’s direction.  There were many nice moments in the play. But, there were also moments that were not clear.  Moments that had had the actors speaking across the stage from each, without action, or cause. The scene of the two brothers, on opposite sides of the stage, did not progress the scene, or the play.  Clearly something was happening, but it was hard to decipher what.  The subtle action during the dialogue was, at times, not specific and didn’t lead us anywhere. Some had to do with the writing, which needed conflict resolution, focus and editing. There were a couple of examples where Paul’s deceased wife (not seen) had a major role but it led nowhere.  Another example is when Paul comes home after he had cut his hand telling everyone, the police were coming, but not really saying why until far too much later in the play. Moments like this also happened throughout the play.  A clearer understanding of the characters motivation would shed light on what characters were hiding and why. 

The Lounge Theatre is the perfect setting for this type of play.  It is very intimate outing and the other crew members which were responsible in making this a successful night are as follows:

Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners – Associate Producer
Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
David Harling – Sound Design – Loved the sound of the bay.  
Wendell C. Carmichael – Costume Designer
Donnie Bailey Reed – Props Designer
Jessica Aquila Cymerman – Stage Manager

This production has finished its run. If you have the opportunity run to see this production.  And take your adult daughter. 

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