Browncoat Pub & Theatre
111 Grace St.$5-10
Nothing really says new beginnings like an originally scripted play. I was thinking that, as a theatre reviewer, it would be great to start the new year to see some original work. The Browncoat Pub and Theatre has kindly obliged with Richard Fife’s “Cheating Destiny,” a time-travel romance directed by Amber Davis.
The Browncoat has set the production of one-of-a-kind material as a main priority. Fife’s script is admittedly his first work in this genre; though, he is no stranger to either the craft of writing or the land of sci-fi and fantasy. (His knowledge of author Robert Jordan is stunning—make sure you have the time to fully appreciate the depth of information he has in his brain before you start that conversation.)
The show opens in
Kruger Cougar Mart where Ron (Chris Schatzle) is mooning over Morgan (Lindsay Chamberlain Austen), the stunning blonde who has absolutely no idea that he exists. It’s a fact that Jeff (Richard Davis), Ron’s co-worker, is only too happy to point out in no uncertain terms. Jeff is pretty acerbic under the best of circumstances and has nasty things to say about not only Ron’s pathetic love life but the two girls Zoe (Elizabeth Bernardo) and Sophie (Jessica Farmer) that not only shop at Kruger Mart but also hang out at the neighborhood bar the guys frequent.
At the bar we meet Toni, the bartender and possibly the wisest person in the play. Played by Monnie Whitson, she has perspective, strength, grace and genuine empathy for her customers tinged with her own sense self-preservation. Whitson also pulls off a good Northeastern accent consistently during the show. Good accents are hard to maintain—kudos to her for making it believable.
Like all time-travel stories, the audience must pay attention to the exposition and follow the action carefully in order to not get lost. (Probably good advice for characters who are time-traveling, too.) I like that rather than having a time machine, the characters have learned a technique (from a book!) to reverse and immerse themselves into yesteryear. Without giving too much away of the plot, Ron buys a book form
Kruger Cougar Mart about time travel and sets out to win Morgan on the night they almost met, instead of letting Ivan (Skyler Randolph) take the lead. As a typical alpha male not to be out done by a pip-squeak, Ivan figures out what is going on and tries to undo Ron’s efforts. They begin a time-travel battle for the girl that not only wreaks havoc on their own lives but the lives of everyone around them. Jeff, in particular, goes from being a fairly confident bastard to yo-yoing between Sophie and Zoe with no anchor at all.
The cast is led by the veteran performer Richard Davis. Davis has good comic timing and was cast with most of the jokes, which he delivers like a pro. Most of all, he listens onstage to the performers around him. In spite of playing a self-professed jerk, he is actually, next to Toni-the-bartender, the character who listens the most to the others. Part of what makes Davis’ performance interesting is his constant busyness. Like watching Uta Hagen, he is always doing; none of the “face front and deliver my lines” moments come from him.
Schatzle’s Ron is a physically small man who seems overwhelmed and confused by much of what is going on around him. Fife has given him several fairly long monologues that are used to establish the disorientation of time-travel. Schatzle does seem genuinely disoriented by his slipping back and forth, but Fife writes good dialogue. I would have liked to seen it come through over monologues during snappy exchanges between Ron and Jeff.
Outside of Davis and Whitson, the cast is less experienced, which provides an opportunity to see some new faces. This is a complex and carefully structured script, which requires a lot of minute work by the performers to really sell the scenario. I do believe that Randolph’s Ivan was a fairly insecure young man who scored a hot girl and doesn’t want to lose her. But I would never have picked him out of the crowd as the lady killer that women flock to, quite simply because the confidence and conniving self-interest that those men exude was not there. The most unattractive man in the world can make women flock to him if he treats them like the only important person in the room. Randolph is certainly a cutie but far too introspective to make women swoon.
Director Amber Davis has tried to bring a feminine touch to this masculine-heavy show (male writer, male leads, etc.). I liked her counterpoints of pushing the female characters to be stronger than expected. Austen in particular has surprising strength by the end of the show. She is model-quality gorgeous, so it is understandable that these two guys are besotted with her. But in the beginning, outside of compassion, her character doesn’t have much depth. By intermission I was thinking: She’s pretty, she’s sweet, but isn’t there something special that makes these two ready to throw away the space time continuum for her? One hopes that wouldn’t be a snap decision. So I was pleasantly surprised by her growth and unexpected twist at the end.
One of my new year’s resolutions for theatre reviews is to stop calling the stage at the Browncoat “inflexible.” After the range of scenery and creative uses of the space that they pulled off last year, it is time for me to admit when I am wrong. It is an unusually shaped stage, but they certainly make the most of it and I have really started to look forward to the latest innovation each time I see a show there.
This time Ron’s apartment is set upstairs sort of looming in the ether above the bar and market. Ron’s apartment reflects better taste and a greater desire for cleanliness than any bachelor I have ever met, but maybe that’s why he really is a catch. The clear “glass” door for the market and the bar was a nice touch—much more realistic than a plywood door would be for either of those venues.
It’s great to have our local theatre scene off to a healthy start with our first original production of the year. Judging by the three-quarter-full house the night I attended, I am not the only person pleased that local writing and local theater are both alive and well.