by David Lally · June 7, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #105: David Lally looks at the double bill "Selling Off Secrets" and "La Matadora" at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
“A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” -- James A. Garfield.Pluck and spunk.
Lou: You know what? You've got spunk. Mary: Well, yes… Lou: I hate spunk. --The Mary Tyler Moore Show
These are the two words that best describe my experience at Selling Off Secrets and La Matadora, a double-billed show that is part of The Planet Connections Festivity Inc. Festival. What is The Planet Connections Festivity Inc. anyway, you may ask? Why it is New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Each production picks a charity of their choice that benefit from their proceeds. I don’t know how that all connects to what I saw onstage but the sheer scope of this festival with 37 productions, 14 staged readings, music, film and special events indicates a lot of pluck and spunk is going on in the ambitions of the coordinators. One funny note was the box office person handed me a piece of paper with “Admit One” in magic marker on it for my ticket (I thought this was definitely eco-friendly but she explained their tickets had been stolen the night before so they made the paper ones up as replacements (there’s that pluck for you).
Since this is a commentary, I must point out that my entire experience at the theater (which will be very different from yours) added to my enjoyment of what I experienced onstage. And yes, I experienced part of the show from onstage (more on that in a bit). From the moment you enter the venue (and depending on what show you are seeing, that could be one of several places), you feel like you are a part of a larger experience, which I don’t always get from festivals as some festival shows seem to operate in a vacuum. The theater I was in was down a flight of stairs in the basement of the facility. For a theatre in a basement, it was actually fairly well-designed and comfortable. The stage had a good amount of playing space and the sightlines were good.
What about the shows themselves? Well they showed a bit of pluck and spunk as well.
Selling Off Secrets stars Tatyana Kot as Lanish, a woman who was a professor but is now suffering from dementia. Playwright Joseph Mosso plays James, a former student of Lanish, and Peter Judd is her husband, Martin. Martin’s in the process of selling off her office furniture and artwork to pay for the exorbitant bills his wife is racking up as a dementia patient in a long-term care facility, hence the selling off of secrets as both Martin and the audience never knows what she did in her office with her students. Lanish is quite aware of the disease that has afflicted her. This is where the play comes alive. Who doesn’t want to know what is going on in the mind of a person stricken with Alzheimer’s? I would have liked to have seen more of the imaginary conversations instead of the setup to these conversations, which didn’t need to be as involved as they were. This piece felt very personal and the program states that Joseph wrote the play “as a way of honoring the memories of the many people he has known over the years”. Alzheimer’s is only beginning to be explored in popular culture so it’s refreshing to see a play on the subject.
The second show, La Matadora, is less of a show and more of a showcase for the talents of its performers: Linda Friedmen (La Matadora) and Samantha Kozloff (Every Other Character). Through a series of “situations” more than scenes, La Matadora and the other characters explore bullfighting and the similarities of the bull to the male of the human species, and, more specifically to the sport of love. Not every bit worked but I know the women in the audience did enjoy my brief appearance on stage (as the sole male in an audience of eight women I really was the only choice) in a bit about the similarities of “reading” the bull’s mood to reading the human male’s mind. In a show like this, you can forgive some of the bits falling flat because both performers exhibited that spunk and their goal was to entertain, pure and simple. By the sounds of the women hooting, hollering and laughing in the audience, they hit the bull’s-eye (pun intended). There were some technical issues with some of the music cues drowning out the performers and the show could have relied less on the music to tell the story but it very much felt to be a work in progress. My overall experience wasn’t hampered so I can forgive some roughness around the edges.
Both shows exhibited that pluck and spunk to entertain me and that, in the end, is all that matters. Any show these days that has me leaving the theater with a smile on my face and a spring in my step is worth the price of admission.