Monday, February 17, 2003

Trust one-act plays to arouse interest

Theater review

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

Know Theatre Tribe is again offering an evening of mid-winter one acts, this year a trio intriguingly given the collective title Trust.

Producing three different plays with different casts can be a hit-or-miss proposition. With Trust, we have two hits and one miss - not a bad average with this type of endeavor.

`Zoo Story'

First up is Zoo Story, Edward Albee's classic 1959 drama of mild-mannered Peter (Jeff Groh) being confronted on a Central Park bench by possibly psychotic stranger Jerry (Know artistic director Matthew A. Pyle).

Some of Zoo Story's references are dated, but the play holds up well under the direction of Brian Isaac Phillips as he focuses his actors on attacking the text and visualizing Jerry's odd stories.

Groh is trusting and nicely controlled in the beginning, giving him lots of room to unravel as he inevitably succumbs to Jerry's plan.

As restless Jerry, Pyle could show more urgency at the outset. But he does find and express the unrelenting pain and isolation that is at the heart of the play and that gives Zoo Story its power.

`Train Story'

After intermission, we start with Train Story, a recent 30-minute play by Adam Rapp (whose one-actor Nocturne was performed by Phillips at Cincinnati Shakespeare last season) that has some purposeful parallels to Zoo Story.

Again there are two strangers meeting, this time women time stuck on a cross-country Amtrak trip.

Well-to-do book editor Lori (a terrific Catherine Elizabeth Cook) becomes enthralled with bitter and tough-talking teenager Exley (15-year-old Andrea Backscheider, showing impressive acting chops well beyond her years).

Director Christine DeFrancesco wisely takes a slow but nuanced pace as Rapp's train ride reveals the loneliness these women feel in their different yet similar worlds.


The final short play of the evening is Tongues by Sam Shepard (Buried Child, True West) and Joseph Chaikin (director of New York's famed Open Theatre in the '60s and '70s).

This 1978 "Piece for Voice and Percussion" is a rambling and often disjointed interior monologue performed by Rob Jansen, accompanied on drums by Adam McLean and directed by DeFrancesco.

Tongues is intentionally obscure with flashes of the stark, visceral poetry that is Shepard's hallmark.

Jansen works hard in an energetic performance, but the obscurity of the play gets the better of the production.

There is no focus shown here to pull us into this man's struggle. We're left with stream-of-consciousness babbling that is related to the other plays' isolation themes, but is not as theatrically satisfying.

Trust, through March 1, Know Theatre Tribe, Gabriel's Corner, 1425 Sycamore St., 300-5669.

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