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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Tabletop

Also see Tracy's reviews of Bunnicula and Anna in the Tropics

Tabletop
Aubrey Deeker, Todd Scofield,
Jerry Whiddon, and David Marks

Tabletop, the comedy now at Round House Theatre's second stage in Silver Spring, MD, is a closely examined, real-time view of life in the world of television commercials. This is not necessarily a good thing. The going is sometimes slow: the audience in the black-box theater watches as technicians carefully disassemble a still life of fruit, meticulously rinse and dry each piece of fruit, then replace them in exactly the same positions as before. The payoff? A "perfect pour" of a glistening, thick, creamy, irresistible fast-food fruit smoothie, filling a cup in the midst of the assembled fruit.

Playwright Rob Ackerman comes from a background as an advertising prop master, so he's clearly familiar with the territory: the backbiting, the insecurities, the camaraderie that can sour in a minute under the hot studio lights. Unfortunately, he's excessively thorough in his depiction of the workplace. Despite Jane Beard's kind, almost indulgent treatment of the characters, the audience gets tired well before the end of the 100-minute play, which is presented without intermission.

Who are these artisans who can call a perfectly lit and shot 30-second ad "the single most eloquent statement of our time" and not be facetious? Andrea (Lee Mikeska Gardner) is the tough, no-nonsense producer and assistant director, determined to keep everything together. Oscar (Craig Wallace) is a pro, annoyed at being forced to work multiple jobs as part of a bare-bones crew: gaffer (chief lighting technician), grip (technician responsible for everything other than lighting), and video operator. Jeffrey (David Marks) lives and breathes props; Dave (Todd Scofield), assistant cameraman, is trying to deal with some personal problems while getting the job done; and Ron (Aubrey Deeker), the studio manager pressed into service as production assistant, is still starry-eyed about the "artistic" qualities of an ad shoot.

All of these people are like satellites revolving around Marcus (Jerry Whiddon), director, cameraman, and supposed genius in charge. He works to keep his own insecurities under control by tearing down the people around him, and - since they need the jobs - they put up with it. In this cutthroat world where the stakes are at once ridiculously small and overwhelming, Marcus is trying to hold on to his place as younger, possibly sharper talents pursue him. If he doesn't finesse the fruit smoothie commercial, he thinks, maybe he won't get a national ice cream shoot next week.

Beard has molded a strong ensemble, with Whiddon managing to be both magnetic and repellent in turn. Deeker manages to avoid sappiness as a na´ve fellow in over his head, while Marks' nuanced, carefully observed performance is a joy to watch. All of them bounce like pinballs on James Kronzer's gorgeous set, filled with the technical and personal clutter of a production studio.

The production's first laugh comes from the sound design by Matthew M. Nielson, who has unearthed recordings of "classic" commercial jingles from the 1950s and '60s. Baby boomers will find themselves recalling familiar lyrics they haven't heard in decades.

Round House Theatre
Tabletop
September 29th - October 31st
By Rob Ackerman
Ron: Aubrey Deeker
Oscar: Craig Wallace
Jeffrey: David Marks
Dave: Todd Scofield
Andrea: Lee Mikeska Gardner
Marcus: Jerry Whiddon
Directed by Jane Beard
Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD
Ticket Information: 240-5644-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org
Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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