Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lightweight plays with bravura acting

“Three Plays,” now at California Stage, is the latest production by Sacramento’s venerable Edward (Ed) Claudio, long honored as both actor and director. The show consists of two one-acts by David Mamet and one by William Mastrosimone, American playwrights famed for their work on stage and film. Though thin in substance, the trio makes for a vivid showcase where actors can strut their stuff.

It’s safe to say that Claudio is the director, though the designation doesn’t appear in the playbill. He performs in all three plays, and the three female parts are split between Tygar Hicks and Anna Shah, who alternate. The only other actor, Brian Rife, appears in the third play.

Mamet’s “Dark Pony” opens the show with a brief vignette about a father and his young daughter driving home late at night. While the daughter dozes the father recounts an ancient American Indian tale about a brave and his horse.

The episode makes a popular companion piece for Mamet’s “Reunion,” also about a father-daughter relationship. Detailed and complex, the second play brings together Bernie Cary, a recovered alcoholic, and Carol Mindler, the adult daughter he hasn’t seen since her early childhood. Each tries to understand the other as Bernie blunders along, revealing that he was a tail gunner on a bomber during World War II. She, meanwhile, keeps her motives to herself until the end. In the performance we saw, Hicks played Carol and almost stole the show with a subtle hint of emotions on her face as she responded to Bernie’s words.

After the intermission, Mastrosimone’s lengthy “A Stone Carver” fills the rest of the show. Agostino Malatesta is a widowed stone carver, an Italian immigrant steeped in his old-country traditions, which include wine making. He faces the loss of the home he built with his own hands. The symbol of his life, the home will be demolished to make room for a new highway. His grown son Raff (Brian Rife) arrives with his fiancée to help him leave, but the pair trigger a family battle pitting the old world against the new.

Given their brevity, one-acts offer little room for character development and emotional complexity, let alone exploring complex issues. On their own, these three are less than memorable. But for Claudio and his many fans, they give the maestro plenty of opportunity to demonstrate the range and richness of his artistry.

Still, the three younger performers take advantage of the opportunity to play off the extravagant eccentrics he portrays. Thus they get the chance to signify, subtly, what’s behind their masks. Though the show sometimes comes off like a collection of audition pieces, Claudio and his protégés make us look forward to seeing them again, working with richer material.

“Three Plays” continues through October 4 at Three Penny Theater, California Stage,1721 25th Street, Sacramento. Entrance to the theater is through the parking lot next to the corner of R Street. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call (916) 456-7066 for tickets and information.

1 comment:

Allen Schmeltz said...

I find myself disagreeing with you my friend, Dave. One acts can certainly have "character development and emotional complexity" and explore "complex issues." And the three pieces Ed choose do did just that. They are far from just "audition" pieces. Perhaps you should go and see the shows again. I found them to be engrossing and ones that only very skilled actors, such as Ed and the rest of the cast could pull off. And they certainly did so. While I'm sure Ed's hand was in the direction of the play, they had a director who you failed to mention; Mary Beth Barber. She did a fine job with all three pieces. I think you shorted a work in which the actors and director brought their skills in excellent form to three complex pieces. All in all this was fine theatre.