What's to Come
By PAUL SHECKARSKI, 6/18/2008
Local playwrights give audience a taste of their talent in Raw Honey
Raw Honey, a 50Swats production at the Nightingale Theater, showcases the workshopped writings of several local playwrights in a series of monologues. Though the monologues share common shames, and one serves as prequel for another, they are disconnected from each other. This is not a single play, but several visions of diverse and imaginative characters.
"Ugly Truth," written by Sara Neely Cruncleton, starts the evening off with some chuckles as a foul-mouthed young woman, played by Kaycee Johnson, describes a sexual encounter with a man she pitied. The humor stems from her suspicion that he has used this tactic on other women. There are also a few cheap laughs in the young woman's coarse language.
The real punchline comes at the end when we realize that her audience has been some poor beleaguered waiter, forced to listen to her tirade before taking her order. After the novelty of the punchline has worn off, though, little else of the piece sticks in the mind; it's all there to prop up that final moment. Sara Cruncleton's later contributions to the evening, "Ink 1" and "Ink 2," are much more memorable.
"Ink 1" glimpses a man describing a sexual encounter with a young woman with innumerable tattoos. His attitude toward people with tattoos is dismissive at best. He has written her off as a loose woman. However, as the monologue goes on, we realize that she has stuck in his mind more than he'd anticipated, and that the encounter has marked him.
"Ink 2" reveals the moments leading up to that encounter, now in the words of the young woman. Specifically, we witness the moment she tells him she has tattoos, and also the moment she confides her sexual interest in him. Because this monologue essentially acts as a flashback, we watch with pity as she lays her soul open to a man who, as we know, regards her with derision. It's a quiet tragedy, partially redeemed by our knowledge that her tenderness and bravery will mark him in the end.
Jason Watts's "Flowertops" shows us a few moments in the life of a girl communing with nature, specifically with a caterpillar on the verge of becoming a butterfly. I found it difficult to access this piece emotionally because the blocking has the actress Amber Whitlatch on the floor, her face obscured by shadow. As I could not see her clearly, I could not read her facial expressions.
When the piece ended, I didn't know what had changed, if anything. In this format, that peculiar moment of change is key. The piece, however, does act as an interesting acting exercise, challenging the actor to become wholly lost in his own world. I believed that this young girl was honestly communing with the caterpillar.
"Honey for Roxie" by John Cruncleton did not engage me as his other two pieces did. In this monologue, a woman describes her marital trouble to a police officer. That was as much as I got out of the piece. I don't think I understood the woman's relationship to the cop. There were moments when she seemed to be coming on to him, but at others she was berating him. Clarifying that emotional relationship would help this piece.
John Cruncleton's "Elegy of Benedict Twig" is one of those texts that, in performance, is much too weird to look away from. Owen Froeschle's commitment to the role heightened the text's sinister edge. On the surface, the monologue is a singsong liturgy with a nursery rhyme's linguistic simplicity. Below that, there's a story about a scarecrow gone wrong, a man bent on making, destroying, and reconstructing the same effigy week after week. It seemed a bit long, but Froeschle found levels within the text that kept me guessing and watching.
Cruncleton's "Whiteface Routine" was the best of the three, and has definite potential as a longer work. Aboard a train, an old-timey circus clown traps a stowaway in a trunk. The clown, played by Jason Watts, has been drinking what he calls his "medicine," and mocks the boy for running away from a "pretty mother" who is probably "crying herself ugly" with fear and loss. The clown rambles drunkenly and sometimes inaudibly about himself, forcing the audience to piece together the clown's story.
At the moment when we realize the clown has a past with the church, Watts stands and walks forward into light, leaving the trunk behind and swapping his inebriated muttering for a preacher's calm and ordered cadence. At this moment, the clown becomes his past, and in Faulknerian language and rhythm, describes to us how like a circus is the church.
As we fall under the power of that holy, soporific cadence (almost like the rumble of the train that plays under the entire monologue), the clown steps back and sits again the trunk, resuming his defeated and alcoholic demeanor. He tells the boy he was joking about trapping him in the trunk, and assures him that he'll let him out at the next stop so he can go home to his mother. He opens the trunk, pauses, and says, "Oh. It's empty."
The language throughout this monologue is powerful, and conveys the sense of two equally alien and hostile worlds. I would urge Cruncleton to seek compression of language in the monologue, as it seems unnecessarily long in places, especially during the sermon. I would also excise the last line, and seek some other way to reveal the chest's emptiness. Unspoken, the concept would have had more impact. Altogether, I'd like to see this expanded into a larger work.
I also love how Cruncleton, here and in other texts, seeks to incorporate Tulsa and surrounding areas into a unique mythic landscape. I anticipate the full blossoming of this impulse in a future work.
Joseph Gomez offers two pieces: "Sleeping" and "Retreat." I enjoyed the heady language of the first, but wasn't sure what I was watching until halfway through, at which point I'd lost the thread.
"Retreat" is much more accessible. The character and his objectives are clearly defined. I admired how Gomez portrayed a youth pastor struggling to resist physical pleasure in order to honor his commitment to God. Gomez invites us to laugh at the pastor's sexual frustration, yet treats his commitment with respect. The language is both accurate and effective.
Julie Ann Seals creates a vivid character sketch in "James," another piece I'd love to see expanded, though I found the brief political commentary tacked on. Her other piece, "Lolly," is one of those "Isn't the South horrible?" bits of drama, but given Tracy Letts's success with August: Osage County I resign myself to more of that negativity toward Great Plains living. (At least it's not Zimbabwe, people.)
Sara Cruncleton's "Snapsnot" felt natural, though a more direct challenge of the character's insecurities would have heightened the tension. Amy Wilson's "Girl without Hands," while spooky, got a lot of help from the staging.
All in all, it's a fantastic opportunity to see what local playwrights are up to, and perhaps a hint of what's to come.
Raw Honey runs June 20-21 and 27-28.