Review: Elemental's hit-and-miss 'Go.Go Plays'

Finding the funny
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 8, 2011

Theater_BabyTalk_main
LOSERS Dersham and Rabinow in Baby Talk.
Elemental Theatre Collective's "Go.Go Plays" have been an imaginative grab bag of one-acts since 2007, and the fifth annual event is no exception. It's being performed at Perishable Theatre through February 13 and directed by Alexander Platt; the four settings range from after a funeral to after the births of a couple of contrasting babies, and the common denominator is humor.

The longest play, which takes up the second hour, has a title correspondingly leisurely: A Brief History of the Earth and Everything in It (As Performed by Ms. LoPiccolo's Third Grade Drama Group from the William Jennings Bryan Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri). It makes good use of the time by being a mini-musical, with book and lyrics by Dave Rabinow and music by Vicki Dorazio and Rabinow, with additional music by John Rogers.

Before things get musical, with a production the class has put on for school, we get to know some of the personalities involved: shy and lanky Max (Chris Rosenquest); image-conscious Maya (Amanda Ruggiero), ever-pretty in pink; colorful, as in mismatched socks, Presley (Kelly Seigh), who was homeschooled; and the ever-proper Turner (Casey Seymour Kim), in suit and tie.

The songs are good fun, in the spirit of "No One Can Resist a Musical" ("It's like an opera that people like"). But the class contains a rabble-rouser, the anti-establishment Derek (Rebecca Noon), so one of the songs is "God On Trial," which prepares us for the surreal ending.

Rob Grace's The Pickle Shop is a showcase for Kim, the one Equity actor on board, who could give droll personality to the role of a tree stump. Here she has a humorous and substantial character to work with, billed only as "The Lady." The stooped, talkative old woman with a Slavic accent and hennaed hair is the proprietor of the shop, where you can get everything from preserved apricots to, well, "You bring me a human toe, I'll pickle it," she declares.

She keeps up a giddy banter, but Kim establishes an underlayer and moments of dark emotion kept suppressed. But soon the playlet falters into pathos as we meet her husband Bill (Jed Hancock-Brainerd), who has Parkinson's disease. No matter that the lady, having railed against the economic system that reduces her to selling pickles, has some interesting justification for railing at us as "slave masters," we are being asked to respond out of pity rather than asked to think about it. Tsk-tsk. Cheating.

George Brant's Baby Talk is a cute little piece that transcends the facile hook of centering around iddy-biddy infants like the doting parents of the story. Paul (Rabinow) is so enamored of the new house guest of him and wife Lisa (D'Arcy Dersham) that he turns changing her diaper into a kinky devotional exercise. Out of the maternity ward only a few days, the baby is "perfect," he is amazed to find, in every objective way: a beautiful little non-squalling all-night sleeper.

Trouble is, as one of them observes: "Nothing perfect could possibly come from us — we're two losers who found each other!" He had aspirations to be an art photographer, she reminds him, but she sneers that is only photographing weddings. His retort, the best line of the evening: "My wedding photographs are very confrontational — they rub your face in it: marriage, marriage, marriage!"

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