Orange Lemon Egg Canary
Uma Productions at Chopin Theatre (see Fringe & storefront). By Rinne Groff. Dir. Mikhael Tara Garver. With Anne Adams, Laura Hooper, Dennis Watkins, Elaine Robinson.
Like an apprentice magician practicing a trick again and again, Rinne Groff tirelessly works at her love-magic metaphor. When magician Great (Watkins) meets waitress Trilby (Hooper), both negotiate love’s trick-ridden terrain, where the object of affection isn’t quite what he or she seems. Meanwhile, Great’s magician-granddad’s assistant, Henrietta (Adams), a ghost in fishnet stockings, comments on the conceit: Magic’s illusion is like that of love; one wants to be duped, etc. Thanks to a captivating Adams, Henrietta’s scenes shimmer.
Yet while describing the magic of love, Groff misses the magic of theater. Great says an audience, like a lover, wants to be fooled, but in both cases, one needs to trust the magician-lover-writer is worth being fooled for. Groff never establishes that trust; she gives Great and Trilby not sleight-of-hand romance but stilted, see-through dialogue. We detect the plot’s strings (Great, the deceiving magician, betrays Trilby); we spot the card up the author’s sleeve (Trilby, the deceptively passive assistant, betrays Great).
Although we ask of Watkins (more magician than actor), How’d he do that?, we don’t have that out-of-body wonder for the play itself. And while Scotty Iseri’s sound design is excellent, the main set piece, an unwieldy red curtain, proves intrusive. Yet when even the talented Garver and Robinson (Great’s ex) can’t pull Groff’s language over our eyes, more polished performances and design likely wouldn’t do the trick. Near the end, Adams delivers Henrietta’s spurned-lover speech with utterly riveting passion; it’s the closest to real magic we ever get.—Novid Parsi