Friday, December 16, 2016

KNIFE/MONEY FORK/LOVE intrigues, convergence continuum at a life/death crossroads

Theaters such as Blank Canvas, Cesear’s Forum, Ensemble and congruence continuum are the creation of one or two people who invest their own money, lots of time, and emotional energy in creating a performance space. 

One such entity, Actors Summit, the labor of love of Mary Jo Alexander and Neil Thackaberry, recently went belly-up.   The duo had a long run thanks, in part, to not only their own efforts, but their supportive family.  But, soon, enough was enough and last December, the final curtain fell.

Blank Canvas, Cesear’s Forum and Ensemble, the “love children” of Pat Ciamacco, Greg Cesear and Celeste Cosentino, are hanging in there. 

Congruence-continuum, the one-man business of Clyde Simon may be almost near the end of the road.  It isn’t the lack of an audience.  Simon has cultivated a loyal group of niche followers as evidenced by the near sold-out audience, on a below-zero snowy Thursday night, for a performance of Jonathan Wilhelm’s The Knife is Money, The Fork is Love.

Con-con’s issue is performance space.  Tremont, where the theatre is located, is in the midst of active gentrification.  The area immediately adjacent to The liminus, the building in which the theatre performs, is in the midst of being developed with up-scale condos.  The land on which the theatre stands is valuable.

The campaign, “Save The liminis” has raised $116,000 of the needed $130,000.   If $14,000 more isn’t raised by the end of the year con-con may be in danger of going out of business. (If you’d like to help the cause, go to click on “support” and follow the links to “Save-The-liminis-Theatre).

As for The Knife is Money, The Fork is Love it fits the con-con mode d’operation. 
The play is billed as, “It's 1932, and Tobias, a young man enamored with radio serials and pulp fiction, receives a package which leads him on a search for the members of a secret society. It’s also present day in the theater, where the actors are trying to work out Tobias’ strange story.  Confusion, and much comedy, ensues as they try to untangle the tale for us.”

Wilhelm, who is an actor, playwright and theatre executive, is very creative, with a wonderful sense of humor and irony.  (Personal disclosure:  Jonathan is a former student who I’ve not only taught, but directed in several productions.) 

George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller all explained in side-notes to their script’s potential directors and actors the playwrights “hints” on how a show should be staged and acted.  These notes were on the written page, not shared with the audience.  Wilhelm, though not yet in a writing level with Shaw, O’Neil and Miller, does them one better.  He writes the directions into the script, to be emoted by the actors so the audience knows what the performer is doing, and often why.  The technique is a little off-putting until you get used to it.  Once you catch on, the device incites fun.  Especially so when the actors argue over whether the playwright is right and whether the performer is capable of carrying out the dictates.

Another writing device is that events are not always in chronological order.  In fact, the play’s first scene is actually one of the concluding scenes, which leads us to jump back to the beginning and then, eventually repeat the scene in its correct place in the logical order of the goings on.  Sounds confusing.  It’s not.  When it happens on stage, the whole thing makes good sense and adds to the “creativity” factor.

Con-con’s production is adeptly directed by Geoffrey Hoffman.  The cast, who, with the exception of David Thonnings, whose sole task is portraying the boy-to-young man Tobias, play various roles and are all excellent. 

Thonnings is delightful as he changes voices, body postures, and uses his mobile face and boyish charm to convey astonishment, awareness and knowledge.

Talented Lucy Bredeson-Smith, con-con regular, transitions nicely from obsessive and secretive mother to “Snake Lady,” a central character in the cult that Tobias is searching out in hopes of discovering the identity of his father. 

Rob Branch, who not only explains the stage directions, but portrays Bill, a detective, Shoefly Joe, a hobo who gives advice to Tobias, when the boy hops a freight train in his journey from the east coast to California, instructs about the symbols painted inside of the railroad car in which the duo travels, as well as the meaning of the “purple hand.”  Branch also takes a turn as Leander, a member of the cult.  He does all with ease and believability. 

Amy Bistok Bunce performs with conviction as the well-meaning Miss Everson, Tobias’s teacher, Theodora, a promiscuous young woman who Tobias meets on his journey in search of self, and a cult member.

Beau Reinker, the sound designer, does an outstanding job of picking mood-setting background music that fits the 1930s mystery radio show mood of the work.  Terri Wachala does a nice job with the lights.

Capsule Judgement:  Consider making a contribution to “Save the liminis” and keep congruence-continuum, the off-off-Euclid theatre, which produces “way out scripts” that other local theaters don’t stage, in business.  As for The Knife Is Money, The Fork is Love, it’s a work in progress that has some fine fun segments in a creative noire model of theater and makes for fun viewing. 

THE KNIFE IS MONEY THE FORK IS LOVE runs through December 17, 2016, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to