By Venus Zarris
The Artistic Home Studio blends a powerful potion of emerging and established theatrical talent to create an evening of cemetery sensations. Six playwrights, six directors and thirteen actors examine death in its final physical destination with varying degrees of personal connection and artistic abstraction.
Sixteen Tons (Joe Wescott – Playwright/Michael Medford – Director) imagines conflict between a seasoned and a novice gravedigger. The premise is intriguing but the conversation is sophomorically contrived and the interaction is hard to believe. Still, this morsel of morose has moments of fun and sets the stage for our night of the living and the dead.
Last Chance (Jim Lynch – Playwright/Ed Krystosek – Director) places two notions of desperation into the context of making final arrangements. The superfluous opening slows the start but as the play unfolds, an intimate interaction between a gravesite salesman (David Vogel) and grieving father (Hank Dilbert) draws us into something sad and twisted. Dilbert brings heartbreaking conflict to his character. Vogel gains a subtle dramatic momentum throughout the story that is calculated and wonderful to watch.
Purity Ball (Aline Lathrop – Playwright/Britnee Ruscitti – Director) finds two young lovers retreating to the serenity of a graveyard with hopes of sorting out their forbidden love. Jess Berry and Jenifer Betancourt create wonderfully contrasting characters with compelling chemistry. Lathrop creates a story filled with delicacy and tension and Ruscitti realizes it beautifully until the abrupt ending that misses the mark of the script’s deceptively complex build.
Last Dance (Ed Krystosek – Playwright/Peter Connor – director) takes us to a graveyard as zombies wake. The humor, both spoken and physical in this piece is nothing short of wonderful. When Mattie tells her husband, “I don’t want brains but I could go for a pizza.” Phillip asks, “Do you think they seat zombies at Giordanos?”
Who knew that after fourteen years of being dead, this couple would still have so much chemistry? Sadly, their parts are a little too fragile to enjoy it. Still, this darling post-mortem interpersonal melodrama is really good fun. Skye Shrum and Kevin D’Ambrosio bring the dead to life with terrific humor, subtlety and charm.
Crumbs from the Table (Mark Young – Playwright/Jim Lynch – Director) presents a couple of bumbling idiots after a grave robbery gone wrong. The script plays like a hilarious sketch comedy skit with two funny personalities that play off of each other brilliantly. Nick Leveski and Dave Maher turn the energy and silliness up to full volume and it sounds great.
Graceland (Scott Barsotti – Playwright/Madrid St. Angelo – Director) An innocent excursion takes a turn towards the dark side as two young friends search a graveyard for an afterhours adventure. Barsotti is brilliant for evoking the location of Graceland Cemetery. It has an energy that seeps into the story, partially perhaps because it is so close to the theater in real life (less than a block away) and also because it invokes a presence that is undeniable. Katie Devine and Tanya Mounsey bring endearing sweetness to this play and St. Angelo creates a great build to the story.
Far more hit than miss, Cut to the Chase: Whistling Past, The Graveyard One-Acts gives this gifted collection of artists and opportunity to hone their crafts and gives the audience six unique takes on a place that we are both drawn to and repulsed by. Macabre, funny, compelling and entertaining, this dark festival of the dead makes for a delightful evening of theater for the living.
(“Cut to the Chase: Whistling Past, The Graveyard One-Acts” runs through July 31 at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark Street. 866-811-4111)
Graveyard images by Venus Zarris.