The Nightingale Theater hosted three plays from local playwrights, with mixed results.
Local theatre fans have something to cheer about this month. Heller Theatre Company invited Tulsans to Nightingale Theater for a triple feature last weekend. HTC planned two additional showings for April 13 and 14.
TU’s own Michael Wright wrote the first play of the evening, a one act comedy called “Going Out of Business.” It did not disappoint. It began with a character breaking a handful of glass objects on stage, and from that point on I knew we were dealing with an experienced writer. The initial dialogue set up the story, and each character introduction went smoothly.
The plot centered around a handful of restaurant workers just informed that the restaurant will be closing forever. They lingered about waiting for their last paycheck so they could move on with their lives, delivering short and mildly funny dialogue. One of the characters made a reference to “Waiting for Godot” that I found appropriate.
The plot, however, interested me less than the characters; for me, this is a good thing. Michelle Collum played Tanya Luisa O’Reilley, a middle-aged character who struggles with her father having Alzheimer’s. Austin Reid played Dwight Eddie Cochran, a young musician getting nowhere in life despite his talents. Alissa Monroe played a very funny Shelley Keating, a natural poet with a goofy personality. Laurel George played Marcie Thorne, an outraged chef who plots ways to kill the bosses who shut down her restaurant. I knew what each main character wanted and what stopped them from getting it.
The end was satisfying. It had a few good reveals and a fun final shot of Tanya, Dwight and Alissa toasting the end of this phase of their lives.
Archer Williams’s “Speak with Dead” came next. This play was the weakest of the three. Despite a strong start, the play faltered in its middle and end. Alex, played by Karen Klein, ate a banana for over a full minute while “O Fortuna” played in the background. Classic.
Alex slipped on the banana peel and then met an angel, Sam, played by Nichole Martin, who told her she is dead. Keeping the play’s tone in mind, this is acceptable, but it bothered me a little that the inciting incident was a slipping-on-a-banana-peel cliché to set up the plot of someone waking up to an angel telling them they are dead. I have seen that story many times before.
Plot clichés aside, this production shined in stage production. After Alex died, she asked Sam who she is. Sam raised her arms in the air, and the lighting turned to a serious dim tone with only a weak yellow light as she spoke in a low voice claiming to be the Archangel of Death. That was hilarious. Later on, the play would end with “Don’t Fear the Reaper” playing in the background.
The plot went something like this: Alex and Sam developed a relationship, they found out Alex died because her guardian angel was off to get tacos and not paying attention, then Sam decided she likes Alex enough to let her play chess for a chance to win her life back. The acting was over done, though I imagine that was intentional to play up the humor, and the lines were delivered well when they weren’t too exaggerated. All in all, it was charming.
The main event, “Four Ways to Die” by David Blakely, came after intermission. Blakely adapted the play from the novel “The Deaths of Sybil Bolton,” a tale about the Osage Native American murders.
Steve Barker delivered a fantastic performance as Denny, the story’s main character. The only critique I have with the production is its endless monologues. Nevertheless, Barker’s Denny delivered each one well, with a beer in hand, his voice carrying confidently outward. Danielle Balleto played Denny’s mother. Her performance complemented Barker’s well and was almost just as good. Quinn Blakely, Andy Axewell, Sophie Kimery and Kathryn Hartney all played various extras throughout the play. Special recognition to Blakley for his Funeral Director character, who made the audience laugh even in the most serious of parts.
The acting was strongest in the third play, as was the plot. It played out like a murder mystery; Denny found out his grandmother may have been murdered instead of dying of natural causes, and so he then spent the rest of the play uncovering clues to find the truth. He interrogated different characters, some of which were not physically there but instead pieces of information that entered his conscientiousness.
The low point came about when Denny pulled open the door behind which he stored the beers he drank and what looked like 200 empty beer cans came out. He announced that he failed. A couple of minutes later, Denny and Mom cornered the culprit and revealed his whole plan to murder a list of people.
The play revealed a part of history that should be remembered. It commented on racism against Native Americans, and it did so in a compelling and interesting way.
Any Tulsan who likes theater should come out to the Nightingale this weekend to see these productions. While admission is $12, this sort of production is priceless.