Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: Dangerous Games

By Michael Block

They say it's always good leaving your audience wanting more. Erik Champney did that. The three plays could easily be snippets of longer pieces but Blankets and Bedtime: 3 Restless Plays is an evening of danger through the lens of sex and lust.
As part of 2016 Planet Connections, Blankets and Bedtime united three dark one acts by Champney that analyze diverse human relationships with the commonality of sex. Beginning the evening is Champney's strongest of the trio, Sparkler. Set in 1964 San Fernando Valley, Sparkler watches the calculated romance of actor Clayton, his fake wife Carol, and his gay lover Max. A story of pointed manipulation with a backdrop of fame and stardom, Sparkler explores the "in the closet" culture of Hollywood's Golden Age and the back door dealing that comes with it. The trio of characters are individually ambitious, striving for glory, destroying lives in the process. Where love starts and ends is the heart of this story. When it comes to effective casting, Sparkler is triumphant. It's as if the cast was pulled straight from the period. As golden boy Clayton Boyd, Chad Ryan is the epitome of All-American. Clay uses his charm and attractiveness to win and it seems second nature for Ryan. Even when he is opposed by Ellie Gossage's affirmative Carol, Clay knows he'll get his way. Max Meyers was wonderful as Clay's boy toy Jack. Like Ryan, Meyers brought a charm but unlike Clay, Jack's aura was genuine. As the former Mouseketeer, Meyers ensured that Jack was in it for the love and not the glory. You know if Champney gave us another act, things would not end well for Jack.
In the second offering, Champney writes a heartbreaking tale with tinges of surrealism. The Screens brings the meeting of Allen and Damien in a psychiatric hospital visiting room. The poetic text follows the story of two seemingly strangers who discuss the circumstances that bring them together in this room and the reality of the surroundings. What was most fascinating about this piece was while there were two people present, this story was all about Allen. Dylan Goodwin sublimely balanced circumstance with reality. There were moments when Goodwin made you think that perhaps Allen wasn’t crazy.
photo by Bryan Cash
When crafting the evening, it was evident about halfway into Saitama that it may have been best to swap The Screen and Saitama in the running order simply due to the fact of the gravitas of Saitama. Nevertheless, Saitama is a dark drama about a comfort station in 1941 Shanghai. Once it's revealed just exactly what this place is, the stakes imminently rise. For those unaware of what a comfort station is it is virtually a brothel. Saitama watches Hideki as he engages in a dangerous game with two comfort women, the veteran Daiyu and the young novice Nuying. When things take a turn for the violent, fear fills the air. It takes tough skin to watch this and not feel an ounce of discomfort. It’s a mesmerizing story that seldom gets a place on the stage. For that, Champney succeeds. But as a whole, something didn’t quite sit right in comparison to the other two pieces.
Uniting these plays in an evening of restlessness is no easy feat. Director Janet Bentley used her resources well. Bentley incorporated effective staging utilizing the natural diagonal that site lines force. The tight stage didn’t allow much for variance, yet Bentley made it possible. She even took the time to capture the pulse of each story and curate them in a manner both individually and as a unit. Blankets and Bedtime didn’t need to be too intricate when it came to lights but lighting designer Gilbert “Lucky” Pearto played with color to add a burst of excitement. The other addition to the production was the intricate video design by Andy Evan Cohen. Simply due to festival constraints, the small projection didn’t have the effect that it could have on a grander scale.
Blankets and Bedtime is not for the weak of heart. Erik Champney, Janet Bentley, and Co have crafted an evening of intrigue that is bound to get you to ponder as you rest your head to sleep.