Theatre Review: ‘The Issues Plays’ at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch

By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

As the world welcomed the Olympic Games this past weekend, Atlanta’s intrepid Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre offered a three night run of five very short one act plays by some award-winning playwrights;

The plays were terrific; the acting was exemplary.  They were performed at the Alliance’s Hertz Stage.

The playwrights:  Ethan Coen, Donald Margulies, Kenneth Lonergan, Theresa Rebeck, and Geoffrey Nauffts; there are Tony and Pulitzer winners among them.

The evening was orchestrated by Grant McGowen, Pinch ‘N’ Ouch’s Artistic Director and the director of all the “Issues” plays, except one (“Misadventure” was directed by Bob Putnam).

These plays, performed under 90 minutes, dealt with “social issues that resonate in our society today” and “remind one of how much is still to be done, and how the theatre can help do it,” said the program and PR notes.

More specifically, for this viewer, the plays grappled with the issues of personal worth, the price and rarity of unconditional love, and dealing with disappointment.  Oh yes—and our need to connect.

They did all this with astonishing clarity, wit, and power, never forgetting that “brevity is the soul of wit.”  Quite frankly, I had almost forgotten what a bracing shot in the arm a zingy one act play can be.  I quickly remembered.

I’ll give you one example:  “Baby Steps,” by Geoffrey Nauffts, performed by Doyle Reynolds and Stacey Melich.  A single, widowed, gay man visits an officer in an adoption agency.  He wants to adopt a child; he asks her point blank if his chances are diminished because he’s gay; she assures him that’s not the case (“I saw ‘The Birdcage,’ and I loved it!”).  But her more personal conflicts soon emerge, and suddenly conscious and unconscious motives are in play, and their relationship is organic and riveting.

All of this in the space of a few short minutes; and this relational sparring and bonding occurred in every single scene/play.  By the way, Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Melich were both excellent.

Director Grant McGowen has gotten fine, sharp performances from all his actors, in every play.  As an observer of the Atlanta theatre scene for quite awhile now, I must say that I’m excited by what Mr. McGowen  and Pinch ‘N’ Ouch are offering to Atlanta.  It appears that more and more of the city’s finest actors want to work with him.  All of this bodes well for Atlanta audiences; we have needed some new, young, energetic talent badly; some of our long established theatres are in danger of becoming stodgy, sacred cows.  Live theatre needs a sense of being on the edge, unafraid of new ideas, new plays, new actors.  I think Mr. McGowen is the real deal, and I hope he sticks around.

Here are the plays and actors for the evening:  “Struggle Session,” by Ethan Coen:  Thomas Elliott, Chip Powell, Bob Putnam; “Misadventure,” by Donald Margulies:  Barrett Doyle, Heather Rule; “Beauty Runs on Light Feet,” by Kenneth Lonergan:  Michael Henry Harris, Jennifer Lee; “Sex with the Censor,” by Theresa Rebeck:  Stephen Banks, Jackie Costello (reminded me of Jane Fonda’s “Klute”); and the aforementioned “Baby Steps.”

This was a stimulating, powerful evening (there was also a fun talk-back with the actors and director).  Please check Pinch ‘N’ Ouch’s website for upcoming plays.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

For more about the theatre, visit pnotheatre.org.

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