Blaze Mancillas and Heather Oakley in Danny Mitarotondo's A Room and a Richard. Photo by Simon Minor.
BOTTOM LINE: Four plays about human connection make for a thoughtful evening of theatre.
The Common Tongue is a new theatre company passionate about collaborative creation. Their mission of creative unity is invigorating and inspiring, so much so that Theasy was pleased to highlight the company as our January Featured Artists (read the interview with artistic directors Lila Dupree and Danny Mitarotondo here).
Their latest production is a collection of four short plays, all similarly topical. The common thread is connection, specifically how individuals communicate, or at least try to. The production is named Connect Five although its exhibits only four plays -- the secondary title, "Four Plays. One Audience," does the math. This idea of dissemination is brought to life from actor to audience, taking the theme a step further and reaffirming The Common Tongue's agenda of unification. It's not only about what's happening on stage, the audience experience is just as integral.
Connect Five pits two budding playwrights, the company's own Bronwen Prosser and artistic director Danny Mitarotondo, with two established playwrights, Wendy MacLeod (The House of Yes) and Lucy Thurber (Killers and Other Family). All four have composed conflict-laden pieces where words are key. Maybe it's due to the subject matter's linguistic nature, but all four plays are written with a lyrical touch. The poetic quality enhances the content, making the (mis)communication all the more potent.
Prosser's The Make Out Queen is an endearing account of one woman's quest for the perfect kiss, performed with a sexy but grounded verve by Prosser herself. MacLeod's Last Night features Sarah Kauffman and Michael Pantozzi as a couple coming to terms with disloyal suspicions. Thurber's Young, featuring Lila Dupree, Sarah Kauffman, Kathleen Littlefield and Michael Pantozzi also treads unfaithful ground in reference to those affected by the situation. And Mitarotondo's A Room and a Richard, probably the most intriguing show of the night, uncovers an awkward conversation between two strangers who quickly grow close over a tragic revelation.
Connect Five's production values are serviceable, although sets and costumes shouldn't be the main focus when words are so important. Undefined breaks between the plays also cause some confusion as it's occasionally tricky to figure out when one play has ended and another begun; double casting makes this even more challenging, although a quick glimpse at the program sorts things out.
At the core of the evening are the plays themselves, and the actors speak their words with a great conviction and attention to their own communication (whether their characters are successful or totally deficient in their attempts). All four plays have an added sexual component, which adds another through-line in the evening. The Common Tongue's goals for collaboration create opportunities to bridge artistic worlds; this is evidenced in Connect Five. Four unique voices are given a platform, although they're never discordant on the whole. Four directors and seven actors invigorate these stories with different perspectives.
(Connect Five plays at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, through January 16, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM and Sundays at 2PM and 8PM.. Tickets are $18 -- $15 for students and senior-- and are available at ovationtix.com.)