James Jennings is theater royalty; there is no other way to say it. Since 1976, he has served as Founder, Owner/Operator, President & Chief Bottle Washer of the American Theater of Actors, an off-off Broadway venue, which has provided literally thousands of aspiring theater artists of all stripes–this humble scribe included–a place to hone their craft, to strut their art, and to make the world a slightly better place.
He also is an artist in his own right, as a playwright, and his latest effort–‘Written in the Stars’, a short one-act, is book-ended with the longer one-act ‘Suicide Bridge’, written by Emmy-Award Winner Charles Kipps.
In ‘…Stars’, Sondra (Ginger Kipps), a citizen of the world, is disheartened and a bit overwhelmed about the state of women throughout the planet; her roommate, Millie (Marie Laine), is not quite as upset at that current plight, and just longs for an easy, mindless evening at the local bar.
The obvious dichotomy is soon enhanced by the mention (in passing) of some nefarious ways these two ladies indulged in when they were younger. No doubt there was perhaps some occasional bombings of banks, and/or government buildings…and while Millie seems to have settled into ‘retirement’ from that lifestyle, Sondra is most determinedly not going to go quietly into that good night. The pre-show selection of 1960s rock/psychedelia music (Strawberry Alarm Clock!) sets the proper mood, and certainly sets the stage for some anticipated fireworks.
But just as suddenly as the groove, the pulse, of the play is set, it is suddenly over…and while we see a determined Sondra getting ready–walker and all–to board a plane to a foreign country, and to liberate women (not quite sure how) and free them from their bond, there is a sense of disappointment and frustration, if only because Mr. Jennings has composed the beginnings of a solid, compelling play ripe with dramatic possibilities.
Usually some ingredients of a theatrical experience get lost in the sauce when the playwright decides to direct his or her own work; happily, that is not the case here. Mr. Jennings kept his play moving at a brisk pace, and the repartee between the two actresses were handled with gentle, determined aplomb.
We hope the playwright will set a few moments aside for himself, and continue to work on this promising endeavor; the dramatic avenues are limitless We also hope that, when not banging away at the laptop, or possibly typewriter, Mr. Jennings will continue to provide a theatrical home for the next generation of theater artists, for the next 47 years.
‘Suicide Bridge’ is, in the overall, a better written play, but not as well directed. A young, pregnant woman (the excellent Isabel Van Natta, the gem of the evening) is about to hurl herself off of an unnamed New York City bridge, when–comically or not–she is interrupted by a middle-aged financial non-wizard (ably played by Alan Hasnas), who intends to do the same thing. While Mr Kipps has a good ear for dialogue, understands humor, exposition, dramatic tension, and varies the pulse of his play with an appropriate irregular heartbeat, the issue here is not the nuts and bolt of the art of playwriting; rather, it is how the writer wishes to convey, execute, and apply what he wishes to say. It is unclear–and remained so throughout the play–if Mr. Kipps is composing a comedy, a drama, a tragedy, or a allegorical tale.
The director, it would seem, failed the playwright. While the brief, simple set of a platform served as a launching pad into the river below (East?) quite easily, it felt as if the performers were doing their thing on a pier resting over the Mississippi River on a quiet night in August, rather than the bustling, frenetic energy of Manhattan at night. There is a specific reference to the couple being able to view the Empire State Building, adorned with its green and red lights–an obvious reference to Christmas, and probably in the evening, or even the wee-hours of the morning. However, the characters were not dressed for winter, and the set was strangely devoid of sound effects and other theatrical devices–fog horn, sirens, cars honking, construction, proper night lighting, the usual, low-lying fruit that enhances a theatrical experience and creates that wonderful thing we call Theater Magic. A miss.
The evening is earnest, heart-felt, and has its heart in the right place–an affirmation of life. Overall, a modestly successful evening in the theater.