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Three Sheets to the Wind

Also see Sharon's review of Fahrenheit 451

As small theatres so often concern themselves with premiering original material, it is refreshing to see a small theatre turn its attention toward producing lesser-known works of a well-known playwright. In this case, the Met Theatre has attempted three one-act plays by Lanford Wilson, in a production called Three Sheets to the Wind. The three plays chosen don't go together very well, and the show ultimately would have been more successful had it included only two of them.

Wandering
Wandering
The most theatrical bang for your buck comes from the second play of the evening, a very short piece - no more than fifteen minutes - entitled Wandering. Written in 1966, it is clearly an anti-war piece, comprised of brief moments in one man's life - he's sixteen, his parents tell him that they can't wait until he's drafted; later, his refusal to fight; as an adult, questioning the purpose of life. It's a great little three-actor piece (two background performers play the parts of everyone in the man's reflections), which builds to a surprisingly effective conclusion in its brief time on the stage. Wilson's text quickly defines each of the background characters with short lines, and Ingrid Koopman and Tyler Tanner make them instantly recognizable with different voices. Rob Carlson's protagonist easily earns our sympathy in his effort to find his place. Wandering is a small but effective play, and it is delightful to see it get an airing at the Met.

Following Wandering is This Is the Rill Speaking, a play about small-town rural life. But to say it is about anything is somewhat misleading. For city folk who might not be familiar with rills, a rill is a small stream or brook, and the play doesn't so much follow its characters' lives in a traditional linear narrative, but rather visits and revisits different moments in different lives, as it flows and babbles along. We see women discussing home decoration, schoolboys gossiping about their classmates, teenagers trying to figure out how to get their drunk friend home, farmers describing quality hay, young people flirting, and many other things that mean little, but together give an overall portrait of country life.

Director Bo Crowell has his performers rarely make eye contact with each other; instead, they stare off in the distance, as though watching a glorious sunset. They never actually say what it is they are looking at, but it doesn't matter. Just the fact that they take it for granted that conversations frequently take place while they're standing on the porch, staring at some sort of natural wonder, helps set the piece in an idyllic place. Like Wandering, This Is the Rill Speaking is a solidly performed production of a good little play we likely wouldn't otherwise get a chance to see.

The big problem with Three Sheets to the Wind is its first play, The Madness of Lady Bright, the story of a fading drag queen going mad in the confines of his apartment. Lady Bright is alone, but accompanied by two characters who manifest his madness - giving voice and encouragement to his less sane thoughts, as well as taking on the roles of characters in his memories and hallucinations. But, other than having this particular storytelling technique in common with Wandering, The Madness of Lady Bright shares nothing with the other two plays. Where the others are small pieces in which nothing actually happens, The Madness of Lady Bright is a big, overblown drama, in which a larger-than-life character is descending into madness. After The Madness of Lady Bright paints in such bold colors, the muted tones of Wandering and This Is the Rill Speaking come as something of a shock.

The Madness of Lady Bright also suffers from a distracting staging error and a weak performance. Lady Bright often sits downstage center at a dressing table on which sits a mirror frame. The frame is empty - so we can see him through it - but the frame itself is very thick and partially blocks the view of most audience members who do not happen to be sitting dead center. Lady Bright is played by L.A. stage newcomer Robert Hensley, and he's not quite up to the task. Hensley keeps his performance on a fairly even keel when over-the-top insanity is called for. Leesa Beck and Jose Solomon do a convincing job as Lady Bright's madnesses, screaming at him while backing him into a corner, but Hensley responds with only increased volume, not increased hysteria. This is a role that calls for some Norma Desmond sized moments, and Hensley simply does not play that large. As a result, the play has no outrageous heights or depressing descents, and instead merely plods along for its forty minutes on the stage.

Because of its script, The Madness of Lady Bright is likely the attention-getting piece of the threesome, but the productions of the two quieter plays are the real charmers of this evening.

Three Sheets to the Wind plays downstairs at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through November 23, 2002. For information and reservations, call (323) 957-1152, or click www.themettheatre.com

The Met Theatre and Bo-Jest Productions present three one act plays by Lanford Wilson, Three Sheets to the Wind - The Madness of Lady Bright, Wandering, and This Is the Rill Speaking. Directed by Bo Crowell; Produced by Bo Crowell and Claire Dunlap. Set/Lighting Design by Bo Crowell; Sound Design by Jeff Ham.

Cast:
The Madness of Lady Bright
Girl - Leesa Beck
Lady Bright - Robert Hensley
Boy - Jose Solomon
Wandering
Him - Rob Carlson
She - Ingrid Koopman
He - Tyler Tanner
This Is the Rill Speaking
Manny/Walt/Father/First Farmer - Joe Beck
Mother/Peggy - Laura Caputo
Maybelle/Allison - Claire Dunlap
Willy/Ellis/Earl - Jeff Ham
Judy/Martha - Shannon McNally
Keith/Ted/Tom/Second Farmer - Michael Sartain


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Los Angeles area.


- Sharon Perlmutter




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