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Visions Magazine
December, 2000

Excerpt From the Column "Theatre News"
by Michael Buchanan


There’s no question on the table about Jonathan Marten’s talent as both actor and director. Whether here in Virginia with 2nd Story Theatre (about to be renamed Actors Repertory Theatre), and in his native New York, he has developed a following of talented people who are devoted to him — and with very good reason. Jonathan always seems to bring out the best in any actor. I’ve had the good fortune to share a stage with him, but not yet to work under his direction. I’m a better actor for the first, and will be better still for the latter. It goes to follow then, that his light-handed and empathetic direction of Supernormal Clutches is fantastic.

Okay, another comedy about relationships. I can deal with that. These were my preconceived thoughts . . . something even reviewers have (although we should know better). When the (figurative) curtain rises on Supernormal Clutches, we’re in the midst of Randy (Lesa Azimi) and Peg’s (Tanya Marten) breakup. It’s not exactly a joyous moment for either of them, especially the highly-dependant Randy (dependant on her lover, dependant on self-help books . . . just plain dependant!). This couple says uncomfortable things to one another, things it’s soon obvious that playwright Pamela Gray intended to discomfit many of us.

She succeeds!

This discomfort doesn’t last long, however. Now that Peg’s going, Randy has to interview prospective roommates to share her Venice Beach apartment. Enter Meryl, the roommate wannabe from the back pits of hell, played to frantic perfection by a wild-haired, wild-eyed Karen Levy. The therapy session she’s just been sprung from has her dismantling the contents of her bag as she regales everyone with a pseudo-life story no one wants to hear. This is one loose BB in dire need of Thorazine…Extra Strength! Levy has the audience in stitches from the moment she enters. Eventually she’s coaxed out of the apartment with Randy's promise that "I’ll call you!" We know we’ll see more of her, just as we see a few tender moments between Randy and Peg, especially now that we’ve been made to laugh (there’s always someone worse off!). They clearly still love one another but it just ain’t woikin’.

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows by now this play deals with the relationships between five lesbians. But only the tightest-assed of all prudes could ever find offense here, mainly because it’s not a story about lesbians, but a story of human beings who happen to be same-sex oriented. This story could be about any given sets of couples in their day-to-day functions (and dysfunctions); exactly, I presume, Ms. Gray’s point.

Time passes . . . and Yvonne (Marcia Collins) is Randy’s new roommate. "Amazing how ex’s like you and Peg can remain such good friends," she tells Randy (we knew they would be!). But a chance to go out for coffee spills the last of Juan Valdez’s beans when Randy learns Peg and Yvonne have been more than casual acquaintances... for some time now!

No more plot giveaways, just kudos: Tanya Marten is a dynamic actress, someone Hampton Roads audiences need to see a lot more of. As Peg, she strikes all the right notes, demonstrating a rather formidable talent in the process. As Randy, Lesa Azimi, whose talents have long been in evidence on Hampton Roads’ stages, personifies her character’s confusion and tremendous need with simplicity and honesty. Together, she and Marten make a very real, extremely endearing and totally unbeatable combination.
Marcia Collins, a mistress of takes and double takes, (as in the "what’s that you said?" school of comedy) is a terrific comic talent and a wonderful foil for Azimi and Marten. Kathy Allen, playing the late-in-play character, Tina, brings a certain assertiveness that doesn’t offend (though one might wonder where she gets off dispensing some of her advice!). I was incredibly surprised to learn that Supernormal Clutches marks her stage debut! She appears perfectly at home onstage, and I hope to see more of her there.

Susan Posey’s set and lighting make the most of the newly renovated 2nd Story/ART black box space, and Celia Burnett’s costumes are simple and evoke the correct mood.

As I write this column, 2nd Story/ART has two days to abandon their beautiful new home at the Khedive Temple to whatever fate lies in store ("I fear the demolition of a genuinely historic building to make room for new condos that are supposed to ‘look’ like historic buildings," quips Board member, Dr. Rob Curry). A new home must be found for this outstanding company that has contributed so much to the cultural life of this region.




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