Theater | Bits & Pieces: An amputee war veteran and Frankenstein’s monster headline Halloween theater productions. 

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter
nWelcome Home, Jenny Sutter is playwright Julie Marie Myatt’s take on the homecoming of a disabled Iraq War veteran. I don’t buy it.

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Jenny (Deena Marie Manzanares) is a Marine, and while she’s ready to be out of the war, she’s not quite ready to go all the way home. Instead, she’s going to take a detour without intermission and learn a couple of things before she talks to the kids she hasn’t seen in 19 months.

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She lost a leg in an explosion, the exact circumstances of which are revealed at the climax, so I won’t spoil them. I will say that the scenario is unprecedented in the history of the American involvement in Iraq, and it therefore strikes me as somewhat irresponsible of the author to include it, artistic license or no.

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During her detour in Slab City—an abandoned Marine base in the California desert—Jenny is surrounded by stock characters full of quirks and wisdom and quirky wisdom, while she asks sarcastic rhetorical questions. Manzanares maintains a remarkably consistent tone of petty annoyance that is not so much a monotone as a brief musical phrase stuck in her head to which she is constantly making up new lyrics, often by repeating the previous line as a sarcastic rhetorical question.

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Her performance reminds me of driving through Iowa: It has a bad rap for being flat, but it’s not true. Iowa’s problem is that it is full of small hills rolling exactly like the hills of the preceding 100 miles. Likewise, Manzanares’ delivery isn’t flat, but it isn’t interesting or—more importantly—revealing of character.

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Otherwise, the performances are solid. Tamara Howell is delightful as Lou, a boisterous recovering addict recovering from pretty much everything and bursting at the seams as a result. Garry Peter Morris is charming and endearing as Buddy, a self-styled preacher with his own physical ailments. Even Alex Bala’s turn as a stoner night-shift bus-station manager seems to have more behind it than the lead.

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Really, though, I don’t think Manzanares’ portrayal of Jenny is entirely her fault. The supporting characters, though frustrating in their predictable wackiness, are at least given tangible histories on which to drape their performances and good lines with which to color them. Jenny, on the other hand, is reduced to a series of petulant reactions without much room for expression. It’s not easy to write this kind of character, but that challenge is the primary responsibility of the author. I need to feel like I understand—if not necessarily agree—with the protagonist. In this case, I feel like I barely met her. —RT

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WELCOME HOME, JENNY SUTTER
nPygmalion Theatre Company, Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts, 138 W. 300 South, 355-ARTS, Through Nov. 1

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Radio Hour: Frankenstein
nFor a while, I simply closed my eyes. It would be the best way to capture the intended vibe of Radio Hour: Frankenstein—Matthew Ivan Bennett’s one-hour adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic—I concluded. I could avoid the distraction of watching cast members Doug Fabrizio, Tobin Atkinson, Teresa Sanderson and Jay Perry sit in chairs pretending to be acting in a full stage show. As it turned out—since the entire run of the Plan-B Theatre Company Production is now sold out—it would also be the only way additional interested parties could experience it, when KUER broadcasts the show on Halloween night.

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At times, the approach yielded fascinating results. There was something unexpectedly chilling about letting imagination fill in the blanks as Dr. Victor Frankenstein (KUER’s Fabrizio) began to spin his tale of bringing to life a murderous creature (Atkinson). The creaking ship that finds Frankenstein on the Arctic ice came to life, and the grotesque crackling that accompanied the creature’s acts of violence inspired decidedly unpleasant visions. This was the difference between live theater and radio: What the mind did with the spaces in between.

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But there was also the part of me that needed to watch the production unfold. The creature’s plaintive grunts before he learns to speak are accomplished when Atkinson pulls down on his lower lip—a maneuver that wouldn’t be acceptable for a full theatrical production. Atkinson also manages to fill the creature’s menacing soliloquies with power even as he remains seated, the twisting of his face and hands emerging in his voice. And watching the production “foleys” Jennifer Freed and Sam Mollner create hundreds of different sound effects provides a lesson in such intriguing questions as how best to re-create rain clattering off a window (answer: apparently, by pouring rice down a washboard).

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Whether seen or unseen, however, Plan-B’s Frankenstein manages to revive the familiar tale not as the monster yarn known from the James Whale film, but as an even more old-fashioned ghost story—the kind whose chills embody a moral warning. Fabrizio’s death-rattle delivery of Frankenstein’s “confession” captures a soul and a life corrupted by playing God, and unable to escape the consequences. Frankenstein carries a personal hell around with him in his mind’s eye—and if you listen carefully, you might just get an unsettling sense of what it looks like. —SR

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RADIO HOUR: FRANKENSTEIN
nPlan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner Studio Theatre 138 W. 300 South
n355-ARTS, Through Nov. 2

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KUER broadcast: Oct. 31 @ 11 a.m. & 7 p.m., 90.1 FM

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About The Author

Rob Tennant

Bio:
Rob Tennant is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

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