Theatrical teens and a boisterous `Bouncers'
New York — Sparks in the Park Play by Noble Mason Smith in the Young Playwrights Horizons Festival. Directed by Gary Pearle. Tiny Mommy Play by Juliet Garson in the Young Playwrights Horizons Festival. Directed by Amy Saltz.
Bouncers Play by John Godber. Directed by Ron Link in Off Broadway production at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
Lively dramatic imagination, including a flair for fantasy, distinguishes the Sixth Annual Young Playwrights Horizons Festival. Submitted in each case when its author was 18, the two works debuting at Playwrights Horizons sustain the festival's record for spotlighting youthful talent in a much-needed area of playmaking creativity.
``The most important things a writer can write about are those that happen to him..., really happen,'' observes would-be playwright Barry Daniels (Todd Merrill), the bespectacled hero of Noble Mason Smith's ``Sparks in the Park.'' And then he adds: ``But sometimes you don't want to write about what you know.'' So Barry has it both ways. Moving back and forth between his ``boring'' existence and the world of his imagination, Barry becomes the central figure of both his life situations and the melodramatic snippets that provide much of the comedy of ``Sparks in the Park.''
These interludes range from a lurid spy standoff in mysterious Bombay to a pseudo-Shakespearean duel scene, replete with couplets. Whether on the terra firma of the park where the sparks fly or off in his own cloud cuckoo land, Barry enjoys a kind of three-way association with the audience. The relationship occurs in the samplings of his plays, his personal dilemmas, and the fact that ``Sparks in the Park'' was actually prompted by an invitation to participate in this festival, presented under the distinguished auspices of the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild.
The performance staged by Gary Pearle savors the sprightliness of Mr. Smith's writing. Mr. Merrill runs a broad gamut of comic postures as the sappy fledgling playwright, self-preoccupied to the point that he almost loses his girlfriend Stephanie (delectable Cynthia Nixon). As Stephanie's cousin, Doug Hutchison lends sympathetic aid and counsel to friend Barry. The surrounding cast proves equal to the many demands of Mr. Smith's wacky plot.
The noisy comedy of Juliet Garson's ``Tiny Mommy'' provides the atmospheric binding for a work of darker and more poignant intentions. Beginning amid the near-anarchy of an ethnically mixed New York City classroom, the play soon focuses attention on Marilyn Zuckerman (Jill Tasker), the gentle innocent of the rowdy group. Marilyn's problem is not merely that she is pregnant but that, according to her, the conception is immaculate.
In a series of fleeting scenes, Miss Garson (making her second festival appearance) studies the reactions of Marilyn's classmates and her family to the girl's astonishing news. Amid the resulting furor, Marilyn awaits the financial miracle that will furnish support for her and her baby. Instead she falls for a street scam, a plot twist that brings tragedy to the gullible teen-ager. Garson ultimately pays the price for an implausible premise, but not before she and Marilyn (delicately played by Miss Tasker) and the splendid cast directed by Amy Saltz have peopled the small Playwrights Horizons stage with a heterogeneous company of voluble whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Jews.
The festival productions were resourcefully designed by Derek McLane (sets), Michael Krass (costumes), and Nancy Schertler (lighting). The fine professional assists by all concerned enhance the importance of the Young Playwrights Festival as a source of new and promising talents. The current plays run through Oct. 11.
``Bouncers'' outdoes itself in visceral energy and raw explicitness. In the new comedy at the Minetta Lane Theatre, British playwright John Godber takes a sardonic look at Friday night fever among the idle youth of a north British industrial town. In his raucous verbal tone poem with intermittent, self-conscious soliloquies, Mr. Godber focuses on two groups of protagonists. On the one hand are the four young men who haunt a local discoth`eque in search of drunken fun and romance; on the other are the four brutish bouncers hired to eject troublemakers and preserve a modicum of order amid the general frenzy.
A quartet of versatile and constantly occupied actors play not only the youthful revelers and the formidable bouncers but also the loose-knit story's female foursome and some 20-odd incidental characters.
Under Ron Link's direction, the members of the Anglo-American-Australian cast meet the author's demands with unflagging commitment. They are Dan Gerrity, Gerrit Graham, Anthony M. LaPaglia, and Adrian Paul.
In a pre-opening interview, Godber explained ``Bouncers'' as a commentary on the current lack of opportunity for Britain's working-class youth - a vacuum which they seek to fill with boozing, disco dancing, and girl chasing.
Unfortunately, the depiction of these idle youths and their behavioral excesses tend to arouse more disgust than sympathy. In this instance, Godber does not join such playwrights as Arnold Wesker, John Osborne, and David Storey in helping the uninitiated spectator understand the drives, frustrations, and aspirations of working-class Britons.
Jeff Calhoun's structured choreography makes a go-go 90 minutes of ``Bouncers.'' Cliff Faulkner's abstractly minimal setting, Peter Maradudin's glitzy lighting, and Nathan Wang's sound design are all helpfully in the mood.