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Virginian Pilot
December 7, 2000

Actors Repertory Theatre: A Troupe Without A Home
by Montague Gammon III

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 along?"

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 offers playgoers.
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 mishaps.

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 and reassuring.

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 and strength.

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.




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