Everybody’s a critic: Our first (sort of) arts review

June 9, 2007 9:52 am
|    Comments Off on Everybody’s a critic: Our first (sort of) arts review
 |   WS culture/arts

When the folks from The Community Theatre e-mailed to ask if we’d be interested in seeing “Carver’s Pieces” and possibly writing about it, we wrote back, funny you suggest that, we’d been thinking about doing a little arts reviewing here at WSB now and then, since one of us actually used to do that for a living (not in Seattle). So if you want to read the results of our journey into Youngstown Arts Center to shake the rust off that particular branch of the skillset, click ahead!

First, you should know that going to watch The Community Theatre perform “Carver’s Pieces” will take a chunk out of your thoughtspace, but it won’t take a huge chunk of time out of your life.

Three one-act plays (each based on a short story by Raymond Carver), 10-minute intermission, just under an hour and a half for the whole thing. That’s barely more than half the running time of oh, say, “Pirates of the Caribbean III.”

No Captain Jack Sparrow in this show, though. No character we could ever imagine wanting to meet, even, except the exceptionally large man who is at the heart of (though never fully lit in) the playlet titled “Fat.” He is regal, elegant, polite, oblivious to — or deliberately ignoring — a climate of derision in the restaurant where he is dining. The waitress who tells a friend the story of her night serving him is almost a likable character; certainly more so than her bigoted co-workers.

“Fat,” which is second on the bill, and the third playlet, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” are the memorable pieces of the set, intermittently wrenching slices of lives that can leave you feeling better about your own. The TCT actors who perform them skillfully manage to be ironic, heartbreaking, silly, furious — sometimes in rapid succession during “What We Talk About …” — no one more so than Jewell Forster, as Mel, the cardiologist who nervously plows his way through a switchbacking conversation while drinking with his wife and another couple. Though all the players do fine jobs, Forster is the actor you will walk away remembering the most.

“Carver’s Pieces” is staged — simply but with excellent sound enhancement (director John Abramson is credited with the sound as well as with adapting the stories for stage) — in the relatively intimate confines of the theater at Youngstown Arts Center.

Though we have mentioned dozens of Youngstown events in our year and a half of writing WSB, we will admit we’ve never before set foot inside the remodeled ex-school. Permit us some new ageyness; the vibes are good. Nice parking lot, too (you may have to drive by a time or two to see its well-hidden upslope ramp on the building’s north side).

It seems to be the perfect place for these little plays, which defy labeling — tragidramedy, if you must. Each has moments that will make you laugh. Each has moments that will make you cringe. Two of them have moments that might even extract a tear.

If you are familiar with the stories written by Raymond Carver, a Northwest native who lived just 50 years (1938-1988), you may know what to expect. We are not, so we didn’t. The rollercoaster of emotions within “What’s in Alaska” and “What We Talk About …” certainly roared us out of the end-of-week ennui. Not a bad thing. And kudos to TCT for offering work that gives your soul a nudge, as something of a counterpoint to the pop-culture summer fluff lurking out in the rest of the world.

-If you can’t make it tonight, “Carver’s Pieces” has two more Thurs-Fri-Sat weekends.
-This isn’t kid stuff. Lots of simulated substance abuse, plus some raw language.
-You can buy tickets online here.
-The ticket-taking table offers refreshments if you feel like noshing at intermission.

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