November 11, 2007

Double feature: Sex farce uneven, drama stands out

By Dean Bevan - Special to the Journal-World


The English Alternative Theatre presented two very different theatrical works Friday evening at the Lawrence Arts Center: “Please Take…Seriously!” by Adam Lott and “Lights Fade, Curtain” by Whitney Rowland.


The first, directed by Jeremy Auman, offered mostly knockabout farce in a series of sketches set in an apartment from 1958 to 2008.


The same couch is present in each, and the title refers to an attempt to get rid of the item by its final inheritors, two lesbian professors who open and close the play.


In between, the first scene is a spoof of fraternity life in the ’50s. Lame sex advice is offered by a pipe-smoking “older” brother (Chris Nelson) to his nervous beanied pledge (Sean Hall), and the two provide a fine bit of stage business in their comic send-up of fraternity rituals.


Next comes the return of the Summer of Love, with Dana Dajani channeling Cher in gaudy elephant bells, headband and fringed vest, and turning in the evening’s brightest performance. Posing as a liberated feminist, she really wants to seduce whoever is available at the moment.


In the 1978 vignette that follows, the building custodian (Jerry Mitchell) is a father rehearsing a speech to his daughter cautioning her against poor decisions as he paints the apartment walls.


The following decade introduces Krista and Dawn, two “safe-sex party-givers,” setting the scene for an evening’s revel. When Jerry shows up, they explain the bowls of cucumbers and bananas as salad material, and the array of condoms as fancy balloons.


By now it’s 1998, and in one of the play’s most imaginative pieces of writing, author Lott presents Kyle, “an Internet porn addict,” well played by Sean Hall. Chris Nelson also appears again, this time in over-the-top drag as Kelly, “an Internet porn interventionist.” Is the intervention really a success? Who knows, but it’s very funny.


The final scene returns to the opening couple, and the theme of eternal return is sounded as Jerry the custodian, now a doting grandfather, brings his daughter to occupy the apartment.


Overall, the scenes were varied but uneven, seeming improvised when they needed the crispness of farce.


“Lights Fade, Curtain” is more serious, and at its center is Aidan, a young playwright who tries to make sense of his conflicted family history by sublimating it into drama.


His father’s abandonment and absence, his mother’s straitened means and her present near-death state, his half-siblings’ hostility, and his mother’s lifelong faithfulness to her son all drive Aidan to compose the play that no one else seems to want him to write.


Ironically, the only family member with whom he can really communicate is an in-law, his half-brother’s wife.


Typing in his mother’s hospital room, he imagines scenes from his play, which the audience shares as they are acted out elsewhere on the stage. Excellent ensemble acting was the hallmark of this performance, thanks no doubt to Paul Lim’s experienced direction.


All members of the cast were fully caught up in their roles, making standout performances less likely. John Volk as Aidan managed well with a difficult role, given more angst by the script than needed to make the point. Dana Dajani stole scenes as the frisky nurse Sara. Highest honors here went to Samantha Raines, who portrayed Elaine, the mother, with elegance and passionate depth.


The final performance is at 2 p.m. today at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. Tickets are $6-$10 and can be purchased by calling 843-2787.


Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at



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