Browncoat Pub and Theatre and Bad Trip Productions have teamed up again to produce “Baring It 2: A Benefit for Susan Auten.” An esteemed local actress who has had a particularly rough year medically, Auten is the inspiration behind its theme: “We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends.” All of the proceeds from the show are donated to Auten’s medical fund. Auten conceived and put together the first “Baring It” showcase in 2012, and now her friends are returning the favor.
This production brings 13 monologues to stage by 12 writers for an evening that is touching, funny, surprising, and a true gift to the local thespian. Sitting in the dark, I was struck by the strong theme of independent film that emerged during the first half. “Next” by Penny Kohut, “The Pitch” by John Parson, “True Friends” by Richard Fife, and “The Writing-Ing” by Hank Toler all speak to the thrill and frustration of film—whether from a performer’s, a would-be writer’s, or a guerilla director’s point of view.
If anything, the structure director Nick Smith has chosen for the pieces is interesting: Kohut’s “Next” open the show on a note of optimism and curiosity. Lexi Wehunt as the young lady awaiting her next slot at an audition is pragmatic but hopeful about the intersection of her passion for performing with the director’s needs. The evening ends with an offering by Z.F. Mims titled “Fermata”—a perfect bookend to an evening that explores creativity and friendship. Performed by Brendan Carter, with all his usual grace and understatement, the real celebration and mourning that he struggles through as the director of a theatre production in its last performance is pitch-perfect.
Without question, Erin Hunter in Tony Moore’s “I’m Sorry, WHAT???” stole the show. Hunter—who in real life is a very beautiful, sexy, willowy creature—frequently gets cast as the ingénue. She hits the stage in a curly gray wig, a housecoat and cane to introduce the audience to an 88-year-old woman, who is deeply offended that she is not being considered for a 42-year-old’s role. Bursting with chutzpah and indignation, she harangues the audience and director while recounting her triumph and capabilities. She is a marvel to behold in this unexpected and delightful bit of casting.
One of the biggest allures of the evening is the opportunity to see performers that rarely have been onstage lately: Amanda Young, Shane Bates, Nick Smith, and Aaron Willings are all seldom-seen but wonderful offerings. Smith, especially in “This Isn’t What I Wrote” by Richard Fife, excels. The piece addresses a new playwright’s shock after opening night to find the director and cast have truly given life to the words on the page. It’s a delicately crafted piece of writing that Smith approaches with reflection and sanctification. I don’t remember having seen him onstage previously, and this is a lovely introduction to him as a performer. It also hits home for a director’s responsibility to a playwright.
Shane Bates’ struggles in Chase Harrison’s “The Obscurity of Success” are alternately endearing and bizarrely difficult to believe. We find him at a comic-book convention, signing autographs and lamenting the unexpected turns his life has taken as the star in a cult indie-slasher franchise. It’s a tough life as an actor, no way around it, and somehow Bates manages to convince us that success is just as awful as failure. For a room full of struggling artists, that’s a tough sell. By the end, I couldn’t help but empathize with this poor man whose dreams were derailed by notoriety. Though, frankly, it’s not the worst kind of problem to have.
Another performer who has been notably absent recently is Amanda Young. In “Baring It 2” we are treated to her work twice: in Elyse Rodriguez’s “Book Club” and in “Questions of Home” by Craig Kittner. It is an interesting pairing: On the surface, they seem so different; in reality, both pieces are about longing to connect and belong.
With “Book Club” a lonely woman’s interior monologue becomes exterior as she reveals much more of herself than she should to her friends. In “Questions of Home,” Young revisits a childhood home in hopes of reconnecting with the spirit of the place. Part of what makes her enjoyable as an actress is her palpable longing. When she wants something, she wants it wholly; it consumes her. No dramatic reaching out here, this is an entire being that is seething with one need. Her eyes scan and search, her hands tremble, and the words tumble out like Hansel and Grettle leaving bread crumbs.
The set for “Baring It 2” is simple: a collection of chairs and a couple of couches. The deep red walls and mirrored door of October’s “The Séance” remain, which creates a simple, elegant look and brings a bit of haunting reminiscence to the room.
What I enjoy about a showcase like this is the opportunity to see a wide range of work (both in writing and performance), all in one evening. Hopefully, melodrama, comedy, experimental, and deeply dramatic works will be presented and explored onstage. It brings out performers who might not fit the usual go-to casting guidelines and lets actors experiment and stretch.
Auten conceived the initial “Baring It” as an homage to the creative struggles of artists. “Baring It 2” is a fitting tribute to her work and place in this community. Smith has brought together a talented group of writers and performers to create an entertaining evening that pulls at the heart strings and inspires great hope and optimism. That’s quite an accomplishment. For an exciting evening of artistic exploration and a beautiful homage to Auten, do not miss “Baring It 2” at The Browncoat Pub and Theatre.
Baring It 2: A Benefit for Susan Auten
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St.
Thurs. – Sun., Nov. 13-16, 20-23, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee: 5 p.m.