Sunday, March 25, 2001

Theater review: If Theatre Collective

If Theatre acting strong in one-acts

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        “It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight.”

        Spoken by a deeply troubled woman in The Yellow Wallpaper, these wordssum up the inner turmoil expressed in two challenging and effective one-acts being produced by the If Theatre Collective at the University YMCA in Corryville.

        The opener, The Yellow Wallpaper, is a monologue adapted by director Benjamin Mosse and actor Lisa Penning from the story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A wife is being held prisoner in a solitary room until she is cured of her “nervous troubles.”

        Is she the sane but hopefully naive victim of her cruel husband, John? Or has she been insane all along? Or has mysterious John pushed her over the edge? All the while she stares, day after day, at the faded peeling wallpaper in the old nursery that serves as her cell. She begins to hallucinate, and the wallpaper takes on a life of its own through her misery.

        As this lonely child-woman, Ms. Penning gives a measured and committed performance that creates a riveting experience for the audience, particularly in the YMCA's intimate ballroom with its high ceilings and many windows that create a from-the-inside-looking-out ambience.

        The second half of the twin bill is the frank adult drama Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley (Italian-American Reconciliation, the movies Moonstruck and Joe Versus the Volcano).

        Danny and Roberta are two tough and bitter societal losers from the Bronx who meet in a bar and later return to her bedroom. There they fight through their mutual self-loathing, personal demons and violent fear of intimacy.

        That these two hardened misfits are able to claw their way to some tenderness and human connection is testimony to Mr. Shanley's provocative yet poetic writing. That we root for Danny “the beast” and Roberta the hidden romantic so completely is testimony to the believable and compassionate performances delivered by Matthew Pyle and Jessica D. Morgan.

        In both shows, but particularly in Danny, Mr. Moss finds the rhythms of the dialogue and does a fine job with his actors building the anger, fears and release of each scene.

        The Yellow Wallpaper and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea are two difficult shows that have combined into an impressive evening by the emerging If Theatre Collective.

        The Yellow Wallpaper and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, If Theatre Collective, University YMCA, 270 Calhoun St., 961-7434.


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