And although the material is often fast moving and sometimes densely intellectual, the experience is heightened since it displays the extraordinary talents of four of our area’s finest actors: Rachel Lee Kolis, Aimee Collier, Mary Alice Beck and Julia Kolibab.
In the first play, The Great Nebula in Prion by the acclaimed playwright Lanford Wilson, two thirty-something women are knocking back brandies after meeting by accident at Bergdorf’s in New York City. Set in the early 1970s, the women represent two versions of successful womanhood. Louise (Kolis) is a successful dress designer who lives in a classy apartment overlooking Central Park, where the action takes place.
Her old friend Carrie (Collier) is a former political activist who is now married and living a cosseted life in a Boston suburb. Their accidental meeting leads to some stiff interchanges and a few snippy comments that the women share with the audience as asides. But in this play, the asides are often heard by the other woman on stage, and that seems perfectly fine with them.
This clever wrinkle to the proceedings succeeds in showing how each woman is willing to give the other some space. But once the brandy really starts flowing it’s clear that they’re having as much trouble communicating with each other as they’re having in their ”successful” lives.
Louise compares herself to Coco Chanel with acidic brevity: “I drape, Chanel cuts.” Still, it is noted that Chanel has made the same dress for years. For Carrie, her dreams of changing the world have been buried in shopping trips to New York City and, evidently, a talent for bibulousness.
In this play Wilson, who became the master of writing full plays, struggles a bit with the one-act form. The short form is demanding, showing flaws in structure and pace that can be absorbed more easily in a longer play. And Nebula teeters on the brink, never quite committing fully to a more nuanced exploration of these two women.
Speaking of women with challenges, Jane (Kolibab) and M.A. (Beck) are two literary academics in the throes of over-analysis in Plath, Sexton & the Art of Confession, created by the director of these two plays, Greg Cesear. In this piece, the women are sharing some time after attending a seminar, sorting out their critical feelings about two renowned women poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
Those poets, both of whom suffered from severe depression, had a friendship until Plath killed herself in 1963. Sexton followed that path, committing suicide about a decade later. But while they were alive, both write powerful poetry about their most personal thoughts and inner demons.
In this play, the two female academics discuss the personal cost of artistic creation and the difference between the authentic self and the literary self. This is exceptionally thorny territory and it is a tribute to the actors that they can make this wave of heady dialogue even mildly interesting. These actors also address the audience directly, but with a bit less attitude than the first two.
It is clear that Plath and Sexton learned from each other and that led to, what: Their death, or their salvation? And what are M.A. and Jane learning from each other? That is in the eye of the beholder.
What is not up for debate is that Cesear’s Forum always produces plays that engage audiences in unique and compelling ways, even when they’re less than successful in all aspects. In short, they take risks, which are the lifeblood of art in general and theater in particular.
So we are all better for this little theater, under the lobby of the Ohio Theatre, that continues to investigate theatrical material no one else would think of touching.
Plath and Orion
Through October 27, produced by Cesear’s Forum, Playhouse Square, Kennedy’s Down Under, 1501 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.org.
At a time when women are demanding that their voices be heard, this pairing of two one-acts gives voice to four females who definitely have something to say.