Clyde Simon, the artistic director and one-man-band who founded convergence-continuum, CLE’s Tremont-housed theatre, has an affinity for choosing challenging shows. Scripts that no other local performance venue will stage.
Based on the theatre’s mission, “to produce theater that expands human imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performance, and producing plays and experiences that challenge the conventional notion of what theatre is,” Simon’s choices are appropriate.
His choices often make the theatre not a place for everyone.
Worry not, as Con-con, as it is commonly called, has developed a loyal group of fringe theatre followers that generally fill the small venue.
The theatre’s present offering, Elizabeth Meriwether’s OLIVER PARKER! is “off-the-wall” enough to satisfy the Con-con groupies.
Elizabeth Meriwether is a contemporary playwright with a bent toward the absurd and jagged boundaries. Absurd meaning “ridiculous, wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.” And, jagged boundaries, “alluding to having a harsh, rough, or irregular quality.” Yes, the script is both absurd and jagged in its form and message.
Set in a squalid New York apartment, the script unfolds the tale of an unlikely and uncomfortable friendship between Jasper, an old-man unkempt alcoholic, and Oliver Parker, a socially awkward 17-year-old.
Oliver comes from a wealthy and influential family that ignores him. The boy pays for the apartment and everything else Jasper needs.
Jasper has been part of Oliver's life since the boy was about ten.
There is some alluding to his having been sexually molested as a child. Was Jasper, who served as the family’s chauffer, the culprit? The true clue to their relationship might be seen from Jasper’s buying the boy the self-help book, Just Breathe-How to Survive a History of Abuse.
Jasper provides what Oliver needs in the form of some semblance of family, bizarre as it is.
The script, which has a sitcomic tone, is harsh, rough, and irregular in quality and has few realistic moments.
That the writing is sitcomic in tone is totally understandable since Elizabeth Meriwether is a television showrunner who created the Fox sitcom, New Girl. She also was responsible for writing the romantic comedy film No Strings Attached and the ABC Single Parents and Bless This Mess.
Con-Con’s production, under the direction of Tom Kondilas, is well staged and effectively acted. The cast keeps us involved, despite the weaknesses and absurdity of the script.
Clyde Simon is properly nasty and obnoxious as the frustrated Jasper, whose life has little, if any meaning.
Emelio Fernandez is properly conflicted as a teenager with hopping hormones, no family guidance and a need for an emotional connection.
Valeria Young almost makes Willa, a grieving politician attempting to cope with the recent death of her son, into a real person, in spite of having been stuck with trite speeches and contrived situations.
Amanda Rowe tries hard to overcome an undeveloped character.
Capsule Judgment: One critic stated of OLIVER PARKER!, “Elizabeth Meriwether’s comedy combines the crass vulgarity that passes for wit in teen-aimed Hollywood movies with a well-worn stage cliché, the dark story of family dysfunction.” I would add, “it gets a better production at Con-con than the script deserves.”
OLIVER PARKER! runs through September 11, 2021 at convergence-continuum, 2438 Scranton Road, Cleveland (in Tremont). For tickets call 216-687-0074 or go to https://www.convergence-continuum.org
Next up: Oct 8-30, directed by Cory Molner
Gus is an artist. Vanessa is an actress. Gus wants to be presented in a major exhibition for artists of color, so he hires Vanessa to perform as a brash and political artist that will fit the museum’s desire for “new voices.” The play spins out of control as it explores issues of race, gender, sexuality, and art.