Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Things that Fall from the Sky

What does a community theater do, when a scene that takes place at sunset requires a tree and a truck?

Most companies would get a carpenter to build an artificial tree, perhaps with some authentic-looking leaves, along with the shell of a truck, which performers or the tech crew move forward by foot power. The lighting designer would create as 'natural' a sunset as possible, given the equipment available.

While Barnyard Theater was preparing 'Unusual Epitaphs,' the first of three one-act plays running through July 31 at Schmeiser's Barn, the short piece called for a tree, a truck and a sunset. No problem. The show was scheduled to begin at sunset, and the audience is seated outside the barn, in front of a tree.

Harris (Josh van Eyken) sits beneath the tree as the play begins, and Laurie (Maddy Ryen) hops in an old truck down the road a piece, and drives it into the barnyard area and up to the tree.

It not only adds a touch of realism, it is real.

Rob Rinow's heartwarming story tells of a man with no roots who has decided he wants to be eaten by a bear. He has this desire because of a plaque on the tree: It honors Peter LeBeck, the town founder, who was eaten by a bear and - as a result - had a town named for him.

Harris wants that kind of immortality, and is willing to wait as long as it takes for a bear to come by. And eat him.

Laurie is a lonely security guard/tour guide/event planner who has been told to convince Harris to move on, by pointing out that bears haven't been seen in the area for years.

As the two chat in this tightly written little play, we learn a surprising amount about both characters. Van Eyken and Ryen are both likable actors who inhabit their characters well; as the sun begins to set and the play concludes, a bond has been forged.

The audience then 'transitions into the barn,' where a more traditional theater setting awaits.

Eva Konstantopoulos' 'Fly Me to the Moon' has a kind of O. Henry quality, with its story about a shop that sells memories. The play makes us question the value of memories - memories of things we've experienced ourselves, and those we wish we had experienced - and how far people are willing to go for those they love.

Louise (Ashley Bargenquast) and Frank (Bernie Goldsmith) are a married couple; they wander into the memory shop run by the Gift Shop Girl (Madelyn Ligtenberg). The memories are represented by a collection of helium balloons, which rest with weights on the floor. Each is tagged with a price and a description of the memory it holds.

Louise has come to look at the most special memory: a trip to the moon. That special balloon hangs on the wall, larger than all the rest; Louise is giddy as a schoolgirl, thinking about how wonderful it would be to close her eyes and 'remember' a trip to the moon whenever she desires.

The price of this memory, however, is way beyond Frank's means. As he watches his wife's disappointment, he struggles with a choice regarding this memory, and the possible consequences.

The absence of a delineated 'end' to this play was a bit disconcerting (especially since the start of the third and final piece, 'Things that Fall from the Sky,' was delayed on opening night, perhaps by technical problems).

Brenda Varda's 'Things that Fall from the Sky' tells of Melvia (Genevieve Whitman), a young dreamer who corresponded with the astronauts on the ill-fated Columbia, before that space shuttle exploded. Now she fears her beloved night sky, and is afraid of the great fiery things that might fall from it.

It's a story about love, grief and looking up at the stars.

I found it the least satisfying piece, perhaps because of problems with projection by the actors (and a squirmy man in front of me, whose chair squeaked so badly that it covered up much of the dialogue). Whitman is joined by Mike Sullivan, Timothy Smith, Diane Buttz, Sean Olivares, Maddy Ryen, Geoffrey Albrecht and the voice of Anthony Pinto.

That said, this play's conclusion is beautiful; it transitions nicely into an invitation for the audience to hang around and enjoy some actual star-gazing.

All three plays are helmed by new director Lindsay Carpenter, who embraced this monumental task with professionalism and talent.

I'm not sure why bows aren't taken after the individual plays; instead, the performers take a communal bow at the end of the evening.

'Things that Fall from the Sky: An Evening of Short Plays' is well worth a trek into the country.

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