"SEVEN MOVES" at About Face Theatre
BY LUCIA MAURO
"Seven Moves," a new play by About Face Theatre artistic associate Patricia Kane -- based on local author Carol Anshaws novel -- is billed as "a psychological suspense story." But this faux-metaphoric mystery, receiving its world premiere at About Face, barely outlines the main characters relationships, making it impossible for the audience to invest in their tragedy or believe an inextricable bond was ever forged in the first place.
The drama centers on psychologist Chris Snow (also played by Kane), whose enigmatic photographer-lover Taylor (Elizabeth Rich) vanishes after a spat involving Taylors flirtations at a dinner party. Could Taylor have flown off to Morocco, where we learn she was obsessed with a bisexual French woman? Was she abducted and murdered? Is it possible that she committed suicide? None of these questions are ever answered, but we leave the theater convinced Taylor has met a disastrous end.
These gnawing questions, however, underscore the playwrights larger point: that we can live with someone we think we know, yet realize only when its too late that they were softly crying out for help. So the play, like real-life relationships, exists in the realm of conundrum and incompleteness. While grounded in truth and a fascinating topic for a novel, that overriding theme does not necessarily succeed in a dramatic format.
More contrivance than conundrum, Kanes play merely provides us with unfocused snapshots (certainly a metaphor for Taylors occupation also mirrored in the productions shutter speed-like design). And, because the opening scenes condense Chris and Taylors five-year relationship to a few minutes, Chris Odyssean quest to find Taylor seems implausible. Thats not to say a person is worth more later in a relationship. But, at no point, do these women appear to be having more than a fling.
Its also obvious from the start that the alluring Taylor has commitment issues. She shamelessly flirts with the rather dowdy Chris at a party shes at with her current lover. The two are generally mismatched: Chris often exhausted, analytical and jealous; and Taylor flippant, taciturn and anxious. In order for Taylors disappearance to carry some weight, we have to believe these women shared something soulfully transcendent. That never comes across, especially when Taylor hits on Tiffany, a "meta-mime," in front of Chris eyes in their own home.
This points to another problem. "Seven Moves" cant decide if its Chris or Taylors story. Yes, we see the control-freak Chris, also a card sharp who gambles with her own heart, self-destruct as she seeks some shred of truth to grasp. And Taylor, who frequently appears in flashback backed by melodramatically ominous music, struggles to address her own serious psychological issues particularly her constant and dangerous womanizing (which Chris later learns about when she finds Taylors laptop journal).
Yet neither character has been given any compelling dimensions. Therefore, their plights ultimately come across as empty and trivial.
Thats a shame because, in more skilled dramatic hands, the intricate vulnerabilities of author Anshaws characters could have been more believably, completely and maturely explored. Unfortunately, "Seven Moves" consists of cardboard cut-outs, from Chris best male buddy Daniel to a tough-skinned detective.
About Faces artful production, on the other hand, makes one realize how a deeply thoughtful director and committed ensemble can iron out a scripts wrinkles. Director Jessica Thebus gives this staging an awe-inspiring seamlessness. Anyone wishing to view a play with exquisitely poetic transitions should observe Thebus gift for moving each scene forward through an actors whisper of a change in posture or gesture.
The quality of acting, however, varies. While Kanes Chris tends to stay at one dull level, even when she comes unhinged, Rich manages to undergo a quietly moving transformation through body language alone.
Marguerite Hammersley, a stunning chameleon, shines in three quirky roles: Chris chic newscaster friend; an abused Latina patient; and Taylors suave French lover. Too bad Hammersleys talents are wasted on portraying people written as caricatures -- making for goofy character studies, nothing more. Amy Matheny, another fine actress in multiple roles, is also saddled with broadly penned characters, particularly Chris former butch lover with a volatile edge and the ditzy performance artist.
Scott Duffy does his best to make Chris cliched best friend Daniel supportive and likable. But Brian Goodmans rough detective seems forced; and Margaret Kusterman applies a clunky weirdness to Chris flamboyant psychology mentor Myra (costumed in eccentric flowing robes).
Despite its flaws, this is a provocatively designed production. Set designer Matthew Yorks well-appointed home is framed by reaching tree branches. And Darin Keesings photographic lighting has the capacity to transform those branches from benign to threatening very much like these womens relationship.
"Seven Moves" runs through February 17 at About Face Theatre, 3212 N. Broadway. Tickets: $22-$25. Call 773-549-3290 or log onto www.aboutfacetheatre.com.