Clean Fill Group

at Sheffield's

We 80s kinds of folks tend to be long on self-involvement. Self-analysis, self-help, self-abuse -- anything with the word "self" in it is automatically a popular topic of conversation. But the fact remains, man being a social animal and all, that the best way to find out about yourself is through the people around you. Soap Opera, a poetic, lyrical series of intertwining reminiscent monologues by Ralph Pape, is a refreshing, though somewhat disturbing plunge into this emotional sea, beautifully and simply rendered by the Clean Fill Group.

Soap Opera zeroes in on Johnny, Lucy, and Sharon -- three very different young New Yorkers involved in what at first appears to be a typical love triangle. But their three emotional makeups together react like gunpowder, exploding in an astonishing finale. The story itself, however, is not what makes Soap Opera intriguing; rather, the self-searching and reflections on society that the characters indulge in, and the music of the words they use, draw us in.

Barb Prescott positively shines as Sharon, a lonely painter who encounters Johnny in Central Park one day and begins to rediscover herself through him. Her eyes sparkle with a love of life as she recalls that rediscovery in her monologue.

Lucy (Cynthia Orthal) is the least sympathetic of the three characters, as the once undesirable woman who finds through Johnny that she can inspire love and even lust in men. Once she realizes this, she engages in a merry manhunt, staying with Johnny throughout it only because she doesn't want to cause a scene. She manipulates and emotionally brutalizes men in an attempt to compensate for the years of neglect she has suffered at the hands of the same men who now desire her. But even she is not blind to her own abusiveness, and she searches her motives to try to understand them. Although she is the closest thing to an antagonist in this piece, we learn to like and admire her, too. Orthal plays Lucy as an 80s everywoman, who has a bluntness that earns our respect as she goes from manipulator to ultimate victim.

Johnny, the means through which both Sharon and Lucy find themselves, is sensitively played by Matt Roth. He downplays the dangerous and brooding side of Johnny, concentrating instead on his passion and poetry. Even when he exposes the tragic source of his dark side, there is more sadness in him than bitterness. Yet Johnny has a hard edge, essential to his relationships, and Roth does let this edge flash out on occasion.

Director James Ostholthoff has approached the play with a loving gentleness, choosing to unfold the characters little by little, as delicately as a flower. No one is made a hero or a villain. Ostholthoff simply examines, and tries to understand.

Soap Opera is a short, insightful journey into human motivation and the way we affect, and are affected by, the lives that we touch.

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