Accepting an invitation to a closed "dress rehearsal"
of Supernormal Clutches, at the Actors Repertory Theatre,
spurred nothing but admiration for the acting, directing and writing
talents that put together this script and this play. Even in a
workshop/rehearsal format, this show-to-be, or perhaps never to
be, reasserts ART's place as a preeminent local producing group.
ART, the organization formerly known as 2nd Story Theatre, earned
a reputation in their old Brandon Avenue digs for doing shows
that were thematically daring and well-acted. They were the best
local venue for new and cutting edge scripts, but they're in location
limbo now. Having found what had seemed an ideal home in a stunning
building on Freemason Street, they find that their mission to
produce and teach about quality theatre has put them at odds with
zoning regulations. As the neighborhood association and the artists
face off, it's a great time to say, "Can't we all just get
Early last Tuesday morning, word arrived from Actors Repertory
Theatre that they would be out of their Freemason Street facility
on Dec. 1, and that the remainder of the planned season has been
indefinitely postponed. This is as unfortunate for local audiences
as it is for the group.
Losing ART, or wasting the architectural delight in which they
now rehearse, would be a very real loss to the arts in Tidewater,
and, frankly, to the Freemason Street neighborhood and the ongoing
revival of downtown Norfolk. The impeccable performances in Supernormal
Clutches are a telling example of the quality this troupe
The script is a funny, moving, and uncannily accurate depiction
of the emotional strains of making and breaking relationships.
Randy Gold, played by Lesa Azimi, is a young woman for whom the
term "unlucky in love" could have been coined. Of course,
luck has little to do with her consistent string of romantic misadventures.
Randy's own behavior, especially her super intense way of clutching
at people and emotional ties, explains the frequency of those
Director Jonathan Marten has achieved an uncommonly good merging
of writing and acting. Everything Randy and her friends and lovers
do and say seems utterly real and utterly artless, yet is perfectly
crafted. There is a sense of genuine interpersonal connection
in every conversation these characters have, a projection of real
and natural behavior that is absolutely convincing. The way playwright
Pamela Gray has observed and depicted the heartaches of being
dumped and the joys of falling in love will seem almost supernaturally
familiar to anyone fortunate enough to see this show. The way
she has sensitively found considerable humor and refreshingly
positive notes in what could have been a dreary story is delightful
It begins as Randy's live-in-lover is moving out, not for a new
love, but to distance herself a bit from Randy while hoping to
remain friends, as they were before they became lovers. That ex-lover
is a woman named Peg Riley, and this is superficially a story
about female to female love. Their griefs, depressions and elations
all seem just the same as in heterosexual involvements. That,
of course, is part of the play's point.
The title apparently comes from a behavioral phenomenon in nesting
sea gulls. Some female birds will bond and lay their eggs in one
nest, hatching and raising their young together, and will maintain
that bond for life. Peg and Randy both yearn profoundly for that
sort of lifelong stability.
Azimi and the theatre's Managing Director, Tanya Marten, are just
impeccable in the roles of Randy and Peg. Since Azimi's been recognized
as a first-rate talent in several local theatres, and Marten understudied
her current role in the original L.A. cast, their achievements
are hardly astounding, but welcome indeed.
As Yvonne Martinez, the "perfect roommate" to whom Randy
rents what had been Peg's room, Marcia Collins easily matches
her performance to those of Marten and Azimi. Yvonne is nothing
more to Randy than a friend. Yet in a not entirely original but
still interesting plot twist, she manages to traumatize Randy.
Collins is new to Southside Hampton Roads, having done strictly
musical theatre on the Peninsula. In her first non-musical production,
she distinguishes herself with a relaxed but clearly defined,
cleanly executed characterization.
Another familiar face at Tidewater's theatres of quality, Karen
Levy has the crowd-pleasing part of Meryl, an unstable and wildly
demonstrative woman who answers Randy's first classified ad for
a roommate. Levy puts behind herself the temptation to overact
or to make the role a caricature, but still plays it with all
the extravagance and flamboyance it needs. Here Marten comes in
for special praise, not just for balancing all the performers,
but for approaching this comic role with a tasteful hand.
Near the end of the show Kathy Allen makes her stage debut as
Tina Barrows, whose forthright good judgment just might be the
guide Randy needs to get her life back on track. Allen's talent,
as shown in the well-honed and focused performance she gives,
doesn't seem to give up much to the veterans who surround her.
Focus is one particular quality Marten has achieved. The way all
these performers focus on their characters, and on their fellow
players, gives Supernormal Clutches much of its immediacy
The set, both serviceable and believable despite limited resources,
and the lighting, were both designed by Susan Posey, and Celia
Burnett was responsible for the well-chosen costumes.
The author is better known as the screenwriter of the films A
Walk On the Moon and Music of the Heart, which garnered
Meryl Streep a 1999 Oscar nomination. She really pulled off something
special writing Supernormal Clutches, as did the Actors
Repertory Theatre with its staging. Everyone interested in good
theatre hereabouts should hope that this show and this theatre
don't fade away unseen.