The Fairy Garden/Stolen Moments 

THE FAIRY GARDEN

Quando Productions

at Sheffield's School Street Cafe

STOLEN MOMENTS

Talisman Theatre

at Sheffield's School Street Cafe

Novice playwrights are often encouraged to forget about plot and focus on characterization. Plot, after all, is merely the footprints left behind by interesting characters. Plot will take care of itself.

Harry Kondoleon takes this advice to an absurd extreme in The Fairy Garden, a whimsical one-act being staged by Quando Productions. He not only ignores plot, he thumbs his nose at it, cutting his characters loose so they can do anything, no matter how bizarre or irrational. Sure enough a plot emerges from the chaos, but Kondoleon's technique still fails: his characters, for all their odd behavior, are not very interesting.

The Fairy Garden starts out as conventional drama. Roman and Mimi, two men who are longtime lovers, are drinking cassis and seltzer in the lush garden behind the luxurious home of their friend Dagny. At first they all seem relaxed and contented, but soon we learn that Dagny is distressed. She can't decide if she should stay with her wealthy husband Boris or move in with her lover, an auto mechanic. Then when Dagny goes into the house to get more ice, Roman starts to accuse Mimi of neglecting him. "You just love yourself, yourself and no one else," he sneers. Mimi, fed up with Roman's paranoid accusations, breaks up with him with theatrical flourish. "Call your therapist, Roman," Mimi concludes. "He gets paid to listen to your prattle. I only get fatigued."

From this point on Kondoleon turns into a class clown, trying anything and everything to get a laugh. Dagny's husband is murdered, then gets miraculously unmurdered by a bitchy fairy. Mimi declares his love for Dagny. A male stripper, sent by the fairy, arrives to entertain Roman.

All this absurdity is not inherently funny; to be funny, it needs lots of help from the actors. Bernadette Peters as the fairy, for example, might be hilarious. Marian Hank-Tomasello, however, can't quite make the material work. Her delivery is so straight-faced and sincere that she undercuts the absurdity. Regina Kirby as Dagny has the same problem. Judging from her lines, Dagny is supposed to be a hopeless romantic and a bit of an airhead. But Kirby subverts the ridiculous aspects of her character with her flat, flaccid line readings.

Rick Reardon has the right idea, though. As the male stripper, he starts out as a peculiar character and rapidly becomes bizarre. The stripper insists on doing his routine for Roman even though Roman wants no part of it, and as he performs, Reardon salaciously describes the purpose of each bump and grind, until he's almost groaning with desire. Then the stripper invites Roman to get physical with him--an invitation that Roman can fend off only by threatening violence. Reardon's performance cleverly embellishes the role set down in Kondoleon's script, which is precisely the type of initiative The Fairy Garden needs.

Paul Waters gives an intriguing performance as Mimi, creating an effeminate homosexual with an almost macho capacity for self-assertion. Sherman Shoemaker, however, never manages to convey the simmering anger and insecurity that supposedly torture Roman. Still, the rather uneventful argument between Mimi and Roman turns out to be the most interesting part of what's supposed to be an outlandish story.

Stolen Moments, produced by the Talisman Theatre, is performed in the same room of Sheffield's as The Fairy Garden, and it also deals with some of the idiosyncrasies of erotic love. But instead of staging a play, director John Norris has adapted snippets from a variety of sources, ranging from the poetry of Walt Whitman to the romance novels of Barbara Cartland, to show some of the strange behavior brought on by carnal desire. The idea behind the show, which is part of the Talisman Theatre's "Club Lingerie" series, is intriguing, and some of the scenes work quite well. In Surrender the Pink, for example, adapted from a novel by Carrie Fisher, a young woman named Dinah (Stephanie Heller) tells about "the first time I lost my virginity." Her story is sad but never maudlin, steeped in that particular ambivalence toward sex that plagues adolescents. "The sex, come from nowhere, goes back to the same place," Dinah says with a sigh after her unforeseen encounter with a male friend.

Norris has also done an effective adaptation of a chapter from In Praise of Older Women, by Hungarian-born novelist Stephen Vizinczey. In the brief scene, a young man played by Matt Yde who still lives with his mother learns about sex from a woman named Maya, played by Fran Shultz. The scene's nostalgic tone makes its furtive encounter seem warm and loving.

I saw one of the first performances of Stolen Moments, and some of the actors were still a bit tentative and awkward (one of them was also out sick, forcing the removal of about 20 minutes of the show). Despite these problems, however, the adaptations were engaging, and they should only get better with time.

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