OUT OF GAS ON LOVERS LEAP
Griffin Theatre Company
I don't know what Mark St. Germain thinks his play is about. From his harsh ending and constant foreshadowing, he seems to want Out of Gas on Lovers Leap to be about teen suicide. But his two characters refuse to cooperate. Germain's teenagers are charming--full of dreams and full of life, with some of the healthiest coping strategies I've seen. They turn their bittersweet love story into a play about overcoming obstacles and then St. Germain pulls the rug out from under them.
The story is fairly straightforward. Two unloved teenagers, Chauncey "Grouper" Morris and Mystery "Myst" Angeleeds, drive to lovers' leap right after their graduation ceremony at a prep school for rich, disturbed kids. Grouper is a senator's alienated son who has been bounced from school to school in an effort to straighten him out. Myst is the out-of-control daughter of a sultry female rock star. Her father is unknown even to her mother--hence her name.
The two are best friends, but each wants more. Grouper wants to be Myst's boyfriend and live with her. Myst wants to get laid. In the process of sorting out their priorities, secrets get revealed and heavy bonding occurs. They role-play with each other, each acting as the other's parent. They point out each other's strengths and flaws and share their hopes and dreams. Then they kill themselves.
And I have a big problem with that. The Griffin Theatre Company obviously figured that some of us might, as they stuffed their press packet with a newspaper article and a psychological study about teen suicides. The trouble is that Myst and Grouper don't quite fit the description. The biggest difference is that they have each other. Their relationship does not collapse (one of the signs of an oncoming crisis). In the course of the play, it goes through some major shocks, but these shocks bring them closer, rather than isolating them from each other. There are hints of underlying depression, but most of the evening is spent in joy and warmth.
Griffin Theatre, in short, offers us teen suicide that isn't comprehensible. This is really a shame, for director Richard Barletta has found two quite fine actors for Out of Gas on Lovers Leap. Jodi Ewen has an intriguing voice, a sort of Joan Jett mixed with Bernadette Peters. Her laugh comes straight from her gut, or lower, and echoes around the theater like a pigeon from hell. What's more, she has a charisma that makes you want to watch her. I did have a problem with the way she wantonly throws joints away after one or two hits. That's socially unacceptable, even for a Rockefeller. But I'm being picky.
Mark Ridge's Grouper is a little overshadowed by Ewen's Myst in the first act, but he blossoms in the second. Ridge's performance is much more honest than Ewen's, and this integrity brings Ridge into his own once Ewen's sheen has dulled a bit. His Grouper is very much a high school kid, his insecurities and naive dreams written on his face. Unlike Mystery, he has yet to learn the arts of deception and subterfuge. Ridge flows with his character, and his quiet giggle masking his fears makes a strong counterpoint to Ewen's raucous chuckle.
Unfortunately, Barletta hasn't harnessed his talent, and Ridge and Ewen wander at will. They make connections that never lead anywhere, charming us but leaving us puzzled by the play's conclusion. Ewen's powerful personality becomes almost a hindrance as we see her floundering for a direction in which to take her character. Her unbridled laughter becomes annoying, coming so randomly and without purpose.
Ridge fares better; he finds a way to get his character from one place to another. But without its two characters making progress together, the play becomes a series of meaningless incidents and encounters that nearly insults us with its pat ending. It becomes a long, undirected acting exercise.
Actually, the first act is controlled by one strong guiding question--will they have sex? At intermission, question answered, I honestly assumed the play was over.
Barletta's designers have done some fine work. Andrew Vincent's costumes are absolutely appropriate, especially those for the Madonna-esque Mystery. Sound designer Rick Netter has come up with some wonderfully fitting and fun songs to punctuate the action. Intermission, for example, is filled with Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," which essentially continues the onstage action. Keith Smith's lighting takes us slowly from late evening to just before dawn, while Becky Flory's rocks-and-brush scenery gives the actors some interesting levels to play with.
Griffin Theatre's late-night offering, Yuppie Nightmares, is a collection of four short plays that have absolutely nothing to do with yuppies or with each other. Three of the plays, all of which were first produced at the Actors Theater of Louisville, do share a delightful silliness that pushes reality to its limit, while the fourth serves as a depressing reality check.
None of them are very entertaining, though some of the acting is worth seeing. Kevin Farrell makes a sweet and sad and extremely disturbed guest of the hostess in A Wonderful Party, a play he also appeared in at Louisville. Howard Border's play is about a hellish party thrown by a squeaky-clean and timid wallflower with the help of her tart of a roommate. Most of her guests are uninvited, unknown to her, and very scary. Farrell plays the one guest she does know, a psychotic but adorable friend who gets thoroughly abused by all the other guests. Shaking and stumbling his way around the stage, Farrell manages to create focus amid a chaotic stage environment.
Lynne Magnavite is an eye-opener as a stripper-juggler who shows up at the party in the same play, and Maureen Michael is amusing as another guest. Michael is also good as the cynical, Wagnerian, helmet-clad and spear-carrying waitress in Apres Opera, an extremely silly story written by Michael Dixon and Valerie Smith about strange rendezvous between a man and woman, who are ex-lovers, and the woman's narcoleptic fiance.
None of the acting is really bad, but there's a triteness in all of the productions that the performers can't seem to get beyond. Everything is played with the easiest choices and broadest meanings. The most realistic of the plays, Electric Roses by David Howard, falls flat on its face because of this. Even Wayne E. Pyle's completely absurd Burnt Toast suffers from a lack of commitment to that absurdity.
A Wonderful Party works the best, perhaps because the play is set up for short cameos mingled with ensemble uproar. But the other plays lack that looseness and the ideas in them need more harnessing than any of these directors can handle.