Tuesday, November 20, 2012

MIRACLE & WONDER, a StageWrights script, on stage at Ensemble

Every Wednesday night, a group of wanna-be playwrights and their followers meet at Ensemble Theatre “to develop new work through critical evaluation, discussion, pointed questioning, laughter, more discussion, agreement, disagreement, seemingly endless cups of coffee and sometimes a round of sincere applause.”

The first of the group’s efforts to make it to full production is Jonathan Wilhelm’s thought provoking script, MIRACLE AND WONDER.  It is dedicated to Majid Brown, who Wilhelm describes as “the most opinionated person I’ve ever met and I [Wilhelm] mean this in the best way possible.”  He goes on to say that “everyone should be blessed with someone in our lives who is able to be so honest.” 

MIRACLE AND WONDER takes place during the present holiday season, in a suburban city in Midwest America.  The scenes, and there are many of them, occur inside and outside of a house, in a gay bar, a hospital room and a living room. 

Wilhelm’s script doesn’t clearly develop his message, but there are enough hints so that anyone interested in spirituality, mysticism and holiday cheer will glean its wonder, based on miracles, or whatever miracles are.

The cast of characters includes a compulsive school teacher, an alcoholic drag queen, a guardian angel (who switches from being a rabbi to being a viola teacher to being a philosopher), a former Latin teacher who has been estranged from her sister for many years, a African-American tween who as adopted by a Jewish parents, and another youngin’ who is being raised by a gay man who was her deceased father’s lover.  Throw in some holiday miracle, a little wonder, Bette Davis movies, mistaken identities, Midrash parables, Jesus having a bad day, and you have the ingredients of the bizarre Wilhelm’s script.

The Ensemble production is often entertaining, sometimes confounding, and very choppy.  The latter is the result of the playwrights having written a piece requiring many set changes and a director who doesn’t seem to know that having a new realistic set for each new place is not necessary.    It appears Ian Hinz has never heard of suggestive settings or multi-levels.  Even though the idea of having the set changers sing carols as they worked, after a while, even they go bored with the whole concept and just dragged stuff where it needed to go.  He also needed to work with increasing the tempo.

The cast generally carries through on each character’s concept.  Lissy Gulick is delightful as ditzy Noreen.  Anne McEvoy is properly frustrated as Ruth, Noreen’s estranged sister.  Why one of the sisters, who were each “reared” in the same area, has a southern drawl and the other a definite mid-western twang is
unclear, but their bedtime confession scene is a production highlight.

The acting highlight belongs to Tim Tavcar as Malcolm/Polly Esther, a drag queen who gives new meaning to “not passable.”  Though we never get the pleasure of actually experiencing his/her night club performance, we get enough of a view to know that this is not a top of the hill act.

Curt Arnold, as Luke, has some line problems, but basically develops a real person.  John Busser’s Rabbi, prophet, angel is on target, as are the performances by Katie Wilkinson, Lauryn Hobbs and Agnes Herrmann.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Ensemble’s Stagewright’s concept is an excellent means for local playwrights to try out their writing skills, get constructive feedback, and hopefully get their works staged.  Congratulations to Jonathan Wilhelm for developing the often delightful MIRACLE & WONDER.  Though it needs some refinements, and a more clearly directed concept, it is both entertaining and thought provoking and a change from the usual holiday theater fare.

MIRACLE & WONDER runs Thursdays through Sundays through December 2 at Ensemble Theatre, now housed in Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to www.ensemble-theatre.org