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Originality Reigns:

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browncoatThe Browncoat Pub and Theatre winds up its 2013 season with a showcase of original scenes titled “The Dialogues of Strange Bedfellows.” I have been looking forward to it since they called for scripts early last spring. Last year the Browncoat put together a monologue show, “Baring It.“ “Dialogues of Strange Bedfellows” takes the concept one step further to explore scene-work with 18 short pieces. It has the feel of a 10-minute play festival except several pieces are much shorter than 10 minutes, and few of the pieces really attempt the arc structure of a 10-minute play. All 18 are directed by Liz Bernardo.

For a first major directorial project outside of school, Bernardo has her hands full; this is quite an undertaking. Eighteen separate visions and how they fit together can easily overwhelm. For one so young, Bernardo deserves recognition for stepping up to the plate.

Admittedly, I have special place in my heart for Bernardo—I have followed her career here for the last two years. She reminds me so much of myself at 13 and 14, so I can’t help but root for her to succeed. “Bedfellows” is a solid step in the right direction. What must come now is what can only be taught by experience.

The writing crosses genres from the fantasy/superhero world of Richard Fife’s “Walkers” to the children’s TV satire of Atwood Boyd’s “Paprika Plaza.” It includes the reconciliation drama of Susan Steadman’s “Rest Area,” with the expected adolescent monologues of self-flagellation that are unavoidable in such collections. But the major theme is “Bedfellows”—however that may be interpreted by 15 different writers in 18 separate pieces. It’s bound to cover a wide range of the human experiences.

My favorite of all the scenes come with Craig Kittner’s “The Boy’s Favorite,” a short look at the life of a new puppy (Josh Bailey) who is grappling with family politics. His nemesis, Cat (Naomi Barbee), and his tenuous ally, Teddy Bear (Ashley Mitchell), are all in the bedroom of a napping little boy. The writing is creative and explores the shifting sands of power-plays in an inventive and kind way. Acting-wise, Bailey pulls off his best role yet. It’s great to see him shed his skin and explore multiple physical levels on stage as a very sweet, cuddly, kind, delightful puppy.

Paired against Barbee’s malevolent and regal kitty with Mitchell’s earnest yet sweet and storybook-like teddy bear, it is a wonderful interlude. On the other end of the spectrum, Bryan Cournoyer’s rather surprising piece, “Roll That Back,” will challenge the viewer’s ideas about aging and sex. In it is one of three characters aged over 60 that Atwood Boyd plays throughout the evening. For a handsome, healthy young twentysomething, he does a good job of slowing down—one of the hardest physical traits of the aging for the young to master. Cournoyer’s writing is surprising and keeps the audience off kilter enough to make us sympathize with his characters.

Boyd’s first appearance as an emissary from the golden years is in Susan Steadman’s piece, “Rest Stop.” He inadvertently saves the marriage of Tony Choufani and Ashley Mitchell, a young couple who have wonderful non-verbal communication. They also genuinely love each other. It’s great to watch these three interact.

Perhaps Choufani’s greatest role of the evening is in James Roger’s “The Hero.” Choufani and his buddy, played by Matt Carter, are gearing up for the big wrestling match, wherein the hero will presumably take the championship belt. Carter and Choufani interact delightful in a friendly rivalry that gets a bit too serious. Choufani listens really well onstage, and besides bringing realism to his interactions, it makes him a great straight man for the jokes in both of these scenes.

The stage is kept bare, presumably to be flexible for the assortment of locals depicted. Two long benches are the primary set pieces. I think a more detailed set could have been possible while still providing flexibility for the scenes. Last year’s “Baring It” did well with specific pools of light to create separate stage areas.

In addition, the blocking of the action for the performers comes across weak. There are a lot of straight-to-the-front monologue deliveries that could have been stronger if staged differently. In several scenes the performers are literally circling each other or wandering the stage because they don’t have a point of focus. Even in “The Boy’s Favorite,” none of the three performers seem able to agree where the boy’s bed actually is located.

Still, what lacks in specificity is made up for in enthusiasm by leaps and bounds. Not just the enthusiasm onstage—which is infectious—but the enthusiastic compositions. All the writing is passionate—even the monologues that are the well-worn teenage angst are filled with undeniable passion. “Dialogues of Strange Bedfellows” brings together so many elements of what makes art exciting: young, ardent actors, a range of writing styles and perspectives, all brought together under one roof for a high-octane evening of entertainment. For a dose of what is happening on the ground floor of our creative community, check it out.

Dialogues With
Strange Bedfellows”

Dec. 12th-15th, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 5 p.m.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St. • (910) 341-0001
Tickets: $10 (students, $5)

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