Saturday, July 24, 2004

My Avisia Winger

Have you ever wished you could be in on the ground floor of something special? Imagine what it must have been like to have been at the first productions in the Old Palms Playhouse, to watch things grow and develop over the years, to see the fame spread, to watch people come from far and wide because everyone had heard of The Palms Playhouse.

Well, this is your chance to be present at the opening of another funky playhouse which certainly has all the potential, and definitely the enthusiasm of its founders, to continue to build on a solid beginning.

Barnyard Theatre at the Schmeiser Historic Barn on Rd. 31 is presenting My Avisia Winger, with remaining performances July 29-31 at 8:30 p.m.

It’s a new theatre company, comprised of Davis High graduates and Acme Theatre alums. It’s a new theatre, an old barn owned by the Hunt family, and converted by director Stephen Schmidt and crew into an interesting, if somewhat unorthodox theatre. And it’s a new play, written by Davis High graduate Brian Oglesby, expanding on a short story he wrote for Marilyn Hauber’s creative writing class, expanded into play format with the help of a UC Irvine research grant.

How much more “groundbreaking” can you get?

What’s more, it’s a good, well-acted play.

This is a tour de force for Nick Herbert, in the role of the husband. Avisia Winger (Jennifer Provenza) is his wife and the play centers around the effect that an accident, of which we initially do not know the details, has had on both Avisia herself and on her husband. It shows how who the husband is affects his response to the accident. Herbert’s opening monologue alone goes on for pages and he is the glue that holds this show together, with his narrative and his interactions with Avisia.

The time line becomes blurry and it’s not always readily apparent if we are in the here and now, or at some time in the past. Memories jump around from Avisia’s childhood to the days immediately prior to and immediately after the accident, to the present day, and back again. It’s not until the final scenes that we are able to put it all together (and the denouement will leave the audience mulling over the clues that were dropped along the way and wanting to come back again to see the show once more and try to put all the pieces together, knowing, now, what the final picture is supposed to be.)

Jennifer Provenza gives a solid performance in the title role of a woman born to privilege and exclusivity who becomes a famous philanthropist on the death of her father, and who has suffered a tragic accident. Following the accident, Avisia is dramatically changed. Her best friend becomes the imaginary Gazak. She tries to draw her husband into her fantasy, as he attempts to lure her back to his reality.

It is unfortunate that Provenza’s delivery is not consistent. Many of her lines, some of which had significant bits of information, get lost when she must turn away in order to play to all parts of this “theatre in the square.”

Others in the cast play multiple roles. Joe Cohen is the Doctor, Person X, and Beau. Colin Wallace is In-State, Mailman, and Deliveryman. Krystal White is Robin and Artist (she was also the costume designer for the show)..

Scenic design by Ian Wallace is unusual and makes good use of the configuration of the Schmeiser barn. The audience almost become guests in the house, sitting so close to the table or Avisia’s piano. (I might suggest a careful sweeping of spiderwebs in the audience area, however, as some of the upright beams in the section where I was seated were quite heavy.)

Tiffany Michael’s lighting design was dramatic, especially in the flashback scenes.

No specific listing is made for sound design, but whoever was in charge of the sound effects deserves a solo bow. In one spot specifically....well, to say more would give it away, so I won’t. But those who were there were still talking about it after the show ended.

The cast and crew of Barnyard Theatre have thought of everything, from the guy with the bug spray so that everyone who enters the barn can be well protected against the critters flying in from outside during the show, to the member of the crew who rounded up the farm’s dog and took him outside so the play could begin, to the crew with flashlights waiting outside afterwards to escort patrons to their cars.

One would hope that this is not the last that we will see of Barnyard theatre. It’s an ambitious and impressive beginning. They are off to a good start.

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