IF YOU GO
What: Comedy-drama about what happens after the UPS man delivers the package
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday & Saturday from August 12-27; one 2 p.m. matinée on Aug. 21
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Cost: $18; $10 for students
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
On the Web: More theater news in the Stage Door blog at naplesnews.com/stage
Actors of Southwest Florida, beware - never, ever get anywhere near Jenny Smith when she's got a shovel in her hands. You're going to wind up ... "elsewhere" - just like that chap in Theatre Conspiracy's funny, clever, bone-rattling world premiere of Adam Szymkowicz play "Elsewhere" Friday night.
The show revolves around shut-in Celia, delivery boy Teddy - who drops off a package, comes for dinner and never leaves, and Celia's vivacious sister Amanda. Runner-up in Theatre Conspiracy's New Play Contest in 2010, "Elsewhere" isn't about anything in particular but manages to explore everything in general.
Szymkowicz dissects the angst and malaise of modern life within eighty minutes of hyper-literate verbiage that comes filled with plot twists, moonlight rambles and the aforementioned shovel. Although the characters are adults, they behave as churlish children; the actors pull that off with skill and grace - and provide a marvelous glimpse into the psyche of people just doing whatever the hell they want without any regard to the feelings of others.
Smith breathes life into the at once complex and child-like Celia. She charges the character with a manic energy but keeps her from the brink of crazy. Her Celia is simply ... damaged. Watch the play of moods on Celia (and Smith's face) through the play - there's everything from unbridled joy to base hatred - and Smith lets that come through. While the character is obviously not quite realistic, Smith grounds the performance and lets the audience know that there are Celias out there - little girls who just want someone to love them.
Flame-haired Denise Scott bursts through the front door about a half-hour into the play as Celia's bratty sister Amanda - and immediately falls into like with Jordan Wilson's Teddy. Their flirtatious dinner table scenes are comic gold. Scott strikes a balance between ditzy and brassy; she reminds me of Lauren Ambrose's performance in "Torchwood." Wait for her to grab a shovel during the play's denouement.
It would be easy to overlook Jordan Wilson's aimless, go-with-the-flow Teddy - the boytoy the squabbling sisters fight over. Yet, the character is anything but simple - and behind Taylor's direction and Wilson's wide-eyed expressions (a real treat) - the play's true message perhaps unfolds. What is happiness? Is it a good job with benefits? Or the so-called freedom to pursue his artistic dreams? Everything has a price - as Teddy learns.
Directed with whimsical abandon by Bill Taylor, "Elsewhere" delights in the off-kilter and the unexpected. Taylor gives the actors room to discover their characters - but also seems to have found something of a preschool playpen within the script - with its back and forth and constant taunting.
Most beguiling are scenes written in Celia's bedroom, as the character contemplates life alone - in her giant bed (because we've all been there!). Taylor and set designer Curtis Jones bring the bed vertical (complete with pillows and blankets) and have actress Jenny Smith stand in front, projecting the shadow of a window across her face. A later scene, with the character's sister, opens under a spotlight with Celia shivering as Amanda has stolen all the covers - just as Amanda stole all Celia's toys in childhood.
The show does lose a bit of momentum during the dozen or so scene changes. In a perfect world, it wouldn't happen, but realistically, there's no way around that here, given the limits of the theater and the decision to use set dressing instead of a bare stage. Taylor's jaunty choices of pop songs ("Sex Bomb" anyone?) to cover the interludes does help though, as does speedy work by Angie Koch's backstage crew. "Elsewhere" leaves Fort Myers for a New York production - and it will be interesting to see how producers address this wrinkle.
From the first knock of the door to the last, "Elsewhere" sparkles with wit, comedy and quirky characters. Audiences will love the unexpected twists and turns of the plot - and recognize a few parts of their childhood in Teddy, Celia and Amanda. Look for Wilson's array of facial expressions, Smith's take on the demented Celia and Scott's fiery, flirty redhead.
Don't dig holes in the backyard. It never ends well. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.