Monday, September 08, 2008

Theater Report: Another Roberts Hit

Our local community theater, The Station Theater, might well be aptly renamed the Mark Roberts Theater. Once again it is selling out as it is presenting the fifth Roberts play of the last two years, and the second one of this season.

Like Roberts' previous plays at the Station, Couples Counseling Killed Katie, is raw, made bearable only by non-stop humor, as exemplified in the Director's Note: "To open yourself up to someone completely is really scary. Not as scary as having your balls cut off and taken on a high speed chase."

"Opening yourself up" is the theme of all of the Roberts genre and what you see is not always a pretty sight. But Roberts never goes for maudlin, and just when you think you can't take any more emotion, he hits you with a joke.

The couples in the play, eight of them, are all seeing the same psychoanalyst, an unseen and unheard presence, to whom they spill their guts. While the last Roberts play, Where the Great Ones Run, was set in a diner with unbelievably realistic detail, this one consists of nothing but a couch, on stage, facing the audience. There is very little physical movement, mainly the actors sit on the couch talking with the audience playing the part of the therapist. (Is it too obvious to observe that is probably literally what is going on; the audience is Roberts's therapist in his plays?)

The play is done in one act, only about an hour long, with only two actors depicting eight couples, going off stage only briefly between scenes to change costumes and characters. Mike Trippiedi has acted in more than 50 productions at the Station over the last 30 years. Lindsay Markel is a relative newcomer. Both of them perform brilliantly, convincingly portraying not only different types of people, but different species.

This play is not for the faint hearted. The language goes beyond blue. Unlike three of the Roberts plays that have been done here recently, this one does not have a local connection. It was written by Roberts in 2000, presumably in Los Angeles, where it played for eight months, became a cult hit and was optioned as a television show. In a report in May, 2007 on an earlier Roberts play, Parasite Drag, I compared Roberts to Tennessee Williams. This play does nothing to make me have second thoughts about that comparison. It gets at least five stars.

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