Tuesday, October 8, 2013

768. Theater review gets an "AA"

Last night, with my friend Linton Hauss, I attended the second-night's performance of Auctioning The Ainsleys, as part - the final entry - of Theatre [502]'s third season. The play was performed at Actors Theatre in the intimacy of the Victor Jory Theatre, under the direction of Amy Attaway, who is a founding co-artistic director of Theatre [502] and a graduate of the University of Evansville.  It was written by Laura Schellhardt, a professor of playwriting at Northwestern University, where she received her undergraduate degrees.  She also holds a Masters from Brown University.

The story concerns the family of a deceased auctioneer, leaving behind the dying mother delightfully played by former YPAS teacher Pat Allison, and four children, three of which have remained in their home (or carriage house which is ten feet away).  The oldest child, a rather independent woman and the only one not still at home has led the life of a roaming small-town auctioneer, selling off estates all with a story and a bit of fast-talking and a cute wink.  The role is skillfully played by veteran actor Leah Roberts, a YPAS and Bellarmine grad.  Her two sisters are played by Cara Hicks and Erica McClure, both of whom have performed in numerous productions locally and elsewhere.  The former plays the bookkeeper who has missed out on life keeping the memories of the past estates alive in a bizarre filing system - thoughts of my favorite childhood book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, briefly permeated my soul for a moment; the latter daughter, living in the carriage house ten feet away, is a matchmaker in a failed marriage who insists on proper arrangements down to the silverware.  The only son in the family is an uptight, unattached, and unadorned gay male who is particular about the image the family must portray to the community, continually cleaning and polishing the relics of the auction house.  The role of Aiden is played by Neill Robertson, a graduate of the American Music and Dramatic Academy in New York.
 [I must add at this point, as I did in a much longer entry dated March 19, 2012, that of all the actors I have seen play the role of Ernest "Jack" Worthing in one of my two favorite plays, The Importance of Being Earnest, Neill's was simply the best.  I wrote in that entry, "Robertson was absolutely delightful to watch in every way and I look forward to seeing him again. His was the worthiest Jack Worthing I've had the pleasure to watch."].  But, I digress.  
 They are all catalogued in a fashion by the man "the agency sent over" at the mother's request, the actor Lucas W. Adams in the role of Arthur, to record her life as it is slipping from her, memory-by-memory and, with a little sleight-of-hand, piece-by-piece from the curio shelves which adorn her third floor room, away from the family problems, physically and emotionally.  Arthur with his pen and notebook dutifully records the life and times of the family and in doing so intermingles and insinuates himself into it, eventually falling in love with Aiden, as Arthur has a collection of things and Aiden has a room of empty shelves.

One-by-one we learn the values and the misfortunes of each child, their personal alliances with each other, despite the separation from the older sister for a period of fifteen years.  And we see the matriarch, Alice, failing with each passing scene bringing the four children along with Arthur to a final summons on the intercom, the system which provided communication between them but also by which they had avoided each other.  Using the leit-motif of some snap-crackle-and pop, Alice dies and like the pieces in the curio, disappears from sight.

The story concludes with the ultimate auction, that of the auction house itself.

Something should be said about the floor layout into quarters, allowing each character their own "room" in the house, while Alice's suite is raised and to the rear, arrived at by a short series of stairs.  There are several scenes where an auction is taking place and Robert's acute performance of a fast-talking, auctioneer is worthy of a job in some small-town auction agencies, but then that would be life-imitating-art.

I was delighted by the play and my friend seemed pleased as well.

Now, having said all this I hesitate to add these next paragraphs but will.  You've read my review of the story line above of this wonderfully performed play by Theatre [502]'s troupe.  Earlier this year in the Humana Festival of New American Plays, performed in the larger Pamela Brown Theatre, I saw another play called Appropriate.  That night, although I had planned (I thought) to be with someone, I was alone.  I loved the play and mentioned to Linton last night the similarity between the two.  Here is the advert for it and while they were remarkably different, I find them peculiarly similar.

When the Lafayettes descend upon a crumbling Arkansan plantation to liquidate their dead patriarch’s estate, his three adult children collide over clutter, debt, and a contentious family history. But after a disturbing discovery surfaces among their father’s possessions, the reunion takes a turn for the explosive, unleashing a series of crackling surprises and confrontations. A play about the trouble with inheritance, memory loss, and the art of repression.


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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.