Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of Grease
Verve Central Productions presents the world premiere of Still Untitled at the Rising Action in Ft. Lauderdale. Written and directed by Matt May, this new play is based on the stories of Terrance Olear as told to May some fourteen years ago. New playwright Matt May is a graduate of the State University of New York at Fredonia with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Arts Administration. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Creative Arts Enterprises in Miami, and spent a season as the Director of Education for Florida Theatrical Association, the non-profit presenting partner of Broadway Across America throughout Florida. He is currently pursuing his Master of Science in Education degree with a Specialization in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University.
The play is set on Halloween in the Broadway theatre dressing room of actor Tristan O'Brien on the night of his Broadway debut. He speaks to an unseen stage manager via the dressing room intercom as he nervously readies himself for his opening night. The evening represents the culmination of his dreams, and sets in motion his recollections of those of his loved ones who have supported him in these dreams. He tells tales of growing up in Buffalo in a big family, of the heartbreaking loss of his closest brother to AIDS, and the death of his mother only six months after. There are more lighthearted stories as well, about such subjects as his weight loss through gastric bypass, the quizzical nature of magazine subscription cards and a funeral attendee singing all the wrong lyrics to "Amazing Grace." The show ends as he makes his stage entrance after giving thanks and pays tribute to his departed mother and brother.
The premise of Still Untitled holds promise, but its present state is in need of much examination. Structurally, the show seems like it is going to end three times before it actually does. The false endings lead to maudlin U-turns back to the deaths of the main character's mother and brother. There are a couple of moments that are uncomfortably trite. The first is Tristan actually using Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" to launch into an introspective examination of his life. The second has him in a spotlight down center on his knees reading from his adolescent journal in an emotionally distraught voice (though his face was not connected to the emotion). The show as a whole would be more enjoyable if it were seasoned with more comic moments born from stories of his large family or struggles as a performer. The use of the stage manager's voice via intercom limits the actor on stage. He acts to the intercom high over head and the pictures of his mother and brother on the wall behind him. This could be fixed by substituting the stage manager's voice with a real person in the room, such as a high-school newspaper reporter from his alma mater who has come to interview him on his opening night.
The actor playing Tristan is Terrance Olear. As it is Mr. Olear's own personal stories upon which this play is based, one would expect him to be completely comfortable in the role. On the night attended he stumbled perplexingly through almost the entire show. It seemed more a question of nerves than memorization. Certainly the stories and the way he told them long ago to his college friend Matt May must be interesting, or May would not have been inspired to write Still Untitled. The seeming lack of trust in his own acting ability leads to inorganic acting beats, and facial expressions that don't always match his desired emotional message, as he nervously plays well above the audience's heads in the intimate space of this theatre.
The voice of the stage manager is provided by Javier Ortega. At best guess, it would appear that the director is going for a Southern bell, drag queen voice. Whatever it is, the accent is inconsistent, and Ortega's timing and delivery are poor enough to be more a hindrance than an asset to Olear as an actor. There are some technical aspects that need examination as well, such as the monitor on the wall actually being a one-way monitor rather than the twoway monitor it pretends to be. There is also the odd fact that Olear changes out of his street pants to put on another pair of pants we think are his costume for his debut, and then changes out of those into another.
Surely May has something valuable to say, but this production of Still Untitled feels "Still Unfinished", and perhaps the premiere of this show was premature.
Verve Central Productions' Still Untitled appeared July 22 - 26, 2009 at The Rising Action Theatre. Based in Lighthouse Point, Florida , Verve Central Productions is founded to produce and develop new works and talents, educate, and provide quality entertainment and services to its audiences. For more information on Verve Central Productions, please visit www.vervecentralproductions.com.
The Rising Action Theatre, located at 840 Oakland Park Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is a small professional theatre hiring non-Equity performers. The Rising Action Theatre is dedicated to promoting and educating the public in diversity and tolerance for all people through theatre arts. It presents plays with multi-cultural themes, and works of social relevance. For season information and tickets you may reach them by phone at 954-561-2225 or 800-595-4849, or line at www.risingactiontheatre.com.