Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Garret Jon Groenveld's Missives
Missives is principally about the friendship and the sexuality of the two lead characters. They live only two doors down from each other in an apartment building, but never see each other; they merely slip notes under each other's door about their lives and a strong friendship grows.
Ben (Kevin Crook) is a flaming young bar queen who has a new sexual partner each night but fails to connect for any kind of romance. He gives them a phony name and tells them to leave the apartment after sex. He relates through letters to Lia (Dawn-Elin Fraser) that he had a loveless childhood since his mother loved soap opera families more than her own son. Ben and Lia discover through their writings that they love the soap opera "Through the Hour Glass." You begin to see that both are very lonely people seeking something substantial in life.
Lia is an African American woman involved with a married man when the play opens. That relationship ends and Lia finally finds a good man to marry. She moves away from the building but continues to write to Ben since their friendship has become paramount in their lives.
Ben also finds romance when Steven (Ross Paquale) moves into his apartment. However, Steven has an advanced case of AIDS and soon the relationship ends. Depression sets in for Ben. Suddenly all communication from Ben stops and Lia becomes very concerned. The drama becomes a suspense mystery with a crazed creepy individual named Freddie (Andrew Calabrese) becoming involved in this triangle. I won't go any further into the plot.
Playwright Groenveld puts humor into the two-hour production through some hilarious spoofs of a soap opera which was the worst show on TV. Trixie (Alexander Creighton) comes in as a fantasy figure dressed in a slinky red form-fitting gown looking like Raquel Welch to dispense some soap opera words of wisdom. The playwright's dialogue for Trixie is right on the mark when it comes to those daytime programs.
Ken Crook (recent graduate of the A.C.T. MFA program and played one of the leads in Lillies) plays Ben as a contradictory gay male. He is excellent in the role. Dawn-Elin Fraser (Five Flights) is marvelous as Lia. She runs a gamut of emotions in this production, although she sometimes shouts too much for the small theatre. Andrew Calabrese (The Legend of Shirley Mental, Night of the Living Drag Queens) is properly disturbing in the role of Freddie, a neurotically passionate individual. Ross Paquale (An Albee/Pinter Duet) underplays his role as Ben's lover Steven. Alexandra Creighton (Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at Cal Shakes) is not only sexy but her acting is straight out of a CBS daytime drama. She does a great put down of these daytime shows.
Erik Flatmo has designed an excellent dramatic set, which consists of a long blue wall with four matching apartment doors. The actors enter through these doors at various times. There are a minimum of props, including missives strewn about the stage floor. Director Tracy Ward obtains strong performances from all of the actors and creates an atmosphere of suspense in the second act.
Missives runs through November 26th at the Theatre Rhinoceros, Mainstage Theatre, 2926 16th (Mission/South Van Ness), San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org.