Changing Scene’s Levine anthology will tickle you 11 ways
by Michael C. Moore
Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, WA)
November 24, 2012
BREMERTON — The contributions of Mark Harvey Levine to four of Changing Scene Theatre Northwest “Summerplay” festivals, dating back to 2005, all are remembered as breaths of fresh air.
Currently, though, CSTN is supplying a whole oxygen tank.
“Didn’t See That Coming,” the collection of Levine’s short plays and monologues which opened on Nov. 23 at the Bremerton Eagles, is remarkable for the diversity and originality of its subject matter, notable for its sense of humor and laudable for its generally humanist stance. In its 11 different vignettes, there isn’t a character you won’t want to root for.
And Changing Scene is just the kind of place to let a work like “Didn’t See That Coming” breathe. Director Pavlina Morris and her repertory cast of seven have gotten to the innards of Levine’s well-chosen anthology, and bring the work to the surface with minimum of bells and whistles but maximum wit and charm, from the couple (Kristopher Jones and Ruthann Saunders) who wake up to find that their day has been scripted for them to the tarot reader (Diana George) whose prediction of filthy riches is only the beginning.
Levine, a prolific Los Angeles-based playwright, has had his plays produced singularly and in anthologys hundreds of times around the country, including in four of CSTN’s annual one-act festivals in which his intelligent, quirky and funny work always managed to be a highlight.
But seeing Levine’s little snapshots one at a time, however refreshing, doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how good he really is. An evening like Changing Scene is presenting is much better for that, illustrating not only Levine’s easy, conversational prose and sense of humor but the sheer breadth of his vision. His best situations and characters come from the periphery.
And Morris’ minions do a consistently excellent job of bringing them all to life, in sketch after sketch that range in tone from lightly sardonic to downright sweet, without ever so much as dipping a toe into cliche.
Even at his silliest, as in “Superhero” — in which Jones plays a nebbish hiding his perceived inadequacies beneath a mask and a cape, to the giggling dismay of his would-be girlfriend, played by Kenadi Lewis — Levine manages to balance things with an emotional weight. And even when a couple contemplate the end of their relationship (“Up on the Roof,” featuring Lewis and Kyle Boynton), their frustration and desire are tempered with humor, and their true affection — OK, maybe it is love — is allowed to show through.
Characters that could have been cloying — “A Birthday Party’s” Jen, played by Karen Hauser, who might or might not be a street person, and who wants to simultaneously introduce herself and throw a birthday party for the man she might or might not be stalking — are written with enough empathy and humanity that they don’t.
The pieces are as consistently dissimilar as they are consistently entertaining, which makes the evening that much more of a wonder, incorporating everything from straight-on madcap (George’s hysterical, hilariously over-the-top tarot reader in “Filthy Rich”) to aw-shucks sweetness (Dray Young’s father in “A Little Fresh Air,” whose baby is both the subject of his envy and his chick magnet).
It’s all, good, too, but I had two individual favorites, both of which leaned in a decidedly absurdist direction. “The Rental” has Boynton as a rent-a-boyfriend sent by a friend to give Sonya (George) a night off from her romantic miseries, a gift that creates new problems as they attempt to define the parameters of their “relationship.” Then there’s “Misfortune,” in which Young receives a series of messages — through fortune cookies, no less — detailing his impending demise at the hands of his dining companion (Lewis).
You might have different favorites. But I’m betting you’ll take at least a little something — on top of the laughter — from all 11 of them. It’s a tremendous evening of little theater.
But if you knew anything about Levine, you certainly saw that coming.