Original works showcased at City Circle

Coralville – It’s so exciting to live in an area rife with the opportunity to see live theatre written by local playwrights, a chance you’ll have one weekend only at City Circle Acting Company of Coralville’s presentation of the New Play Festival Five at the Iowa Children’s Museum.

The show’s first play is its lightest, if not its strongest; The Comfort of Cole Haans by Henry Meyerson is one of the few plays that doesn’t deal with death or its aftermath. We meet Joe and Karen as they are running late for dinner at his parents. He is nervous about letting the old folks down. Actor Rick Adams shows his unease with twitching legs and hyperactive pacing. Susan Jacobs begins the piece a bit shrill as she looks for her lost shoe, which she cannot leave the house until she finds. We’re made to feel the tension between these two as the show begins, which settles into a more comfortable level when the mystery of the lost shoe is revealed to surprising results which serve to bond the two together. While fun in the moment, the play was a bit of frippery that didn’t seem to say anything new.

Kit Gerken and Theresa Meeks-Mosley expertly inhabit the world-weariness of long suffered nurses in the second play, Extra Patient in Room 203 by Tom Deiker. They both look and sound like naturals in their dark blue scrubs as they discuss the mysterious patient who has appeared in Room 203. Meeks-Mosley’s younger nurse is a patient, kind soul who plays nicely off Kit Gerken’s older, more acerbic nurse. Their repartee is authentic and the audience is made to feel that they are amongst nurses who truly care about their charges. The play hints at the supernatural, and the care that is required for souls even after they have passed on. I enjoyed watching these two and though I sometimes resent a dangling mystery, I don’t believe this is a mystery that it is possible to solve.

Family Portrait by Greg Machlin is another play that deals with the effects of loss, this time on a family. We begin with the fairly gimmicky concept of having a family do a “family portrait” videotape on the same date each year, and we watch as the family grows older and deals with unexpected death, divorce, and moving on after periods of grief. Each actor — Jeff Emrich and Jackie Allen as the parents, Madeline Quint, Jake Russell, and Shelby Zulkin as the children — evolves from a member of a happy family and through the stages of grief and recovery, with bumps along the way. The show is harrowing but ends on an upbeat note. Though the play was short I felt I knew each of these characters, and I was able to feel their pain through the actors’ keen portrayals.

Old Summer Love by Stanley Toledo is a nice little play which shows that love and connection is something not only for the young and hip, but also for the old and hippie. Kit Gerken and Scott Strode, are a couple who drifted apart when he went to ‘Nam. The two seem naturally at ease with one another and it’s a pleasure to watch them reconnect after the loss of their partners. This play is a bit of a light sherbet to cleanse the palate from the sadness that permeates its predecessor, Family Portrait.

Shanghai Knives by Marek Muller is perhaps the weakest of the plays, although to be fair during the preview performance one actor was out sick and was replaced by another actor who held a script and only mimicked the swordplay to come. The play seemed like a nice idea, but was somewhat poorly executed. It involved silverware, embodied by humans, on a quest to save the Lady Spoon. The play seemed to exist so that there could be swordfighting, rather than the swordfighting being there to advance the plot, which was paced too slowly for my taste. But, still. Swords. They can be pretty cool.

The evening ends with A Simple Request by Brian Tanner, in which we see play #1’s frantic husband, Rick Adams, become a control freak boss (named in the program as “Richard W. Adams.”) He shows his range by reigning in his hyperactive energies to a more controlled rage. Josh Beadle, Adams’ opposite in demeanor, approaches the office with an unusual request that throws Adams off his game. This is a fun play with a unique concept and an excellent way to cap the evening. It’s nice to imagine what the characters will be doing after the snippet of their lives which we see in this play ends.

The play festival runs this weekend only, so don’t miss your chance to see these original works right here in Coralville. At $10/ticket, it’s a steal!

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