Professor Lonsdale at Tenth Street
The World's Stage's Inaugural "Working Title" Project
The World's Stage Theatre opens its first ever Project: Working Title show this week with a production of a new play by Courtney Stirn. The premise behind P:WT is evidently to provide something of a pressure cooker for new material. A script is handed to a cast . . . that script is performed in a staged reading. The cast goes into rehearsals. Things get weird. And a show comes out of the whole thing. Other attempts to do this sort of thing around town tend to be really slow improv . . . sort of an agonizingly weak form of sketch comedy. With P:WT the process is a lot more mature and sophisticated than that. If the inaugural production is any indication, P:WT can work some really striking magic between a script a cast and a stage.
The script they were working from was Courtney Stirn's Professor Lonsdale. There really is no way to summarize this thing and do it justice because a play like this isn't about the plot. It's about the people. Stirn has developed an ensemble of five really interesting archetypes and director Angela Fingard helped introduce the five characters to five different actors who have all evidently gotten along so well that it all comes together. Here's a look at the cast:
Professor Robert Lonsdale: Jeff Kriesel plays a sort of a nebbishy Freudish psychology professor who has been relegated to teaching and intro to psych course. The character isn't written to be terribly true to the nauseatingly specific science that is the academic study of psychology, but he doesn't have to be. He's an archetype for the type of person who news to compulsively analyze everything to distance himself from the emotions he feels he's in touch with. The role is nice enough, but without Kriesel's distinct charm and charisma, it might've been a pretty flat title character. He is the center of the play and Kriesel does a good job of keeping him from being flat.
Asher Kemmerling: Robby McGhee plays an elegantly mutated intellectual with an analytical fetish for all things chromatic. He's a philosophy professor. (I think.) In any case, he's entombed himself within abstraction in an effort to make sense of the word. His dialogue is some of the best. Whimsically absurd and absurdly whimsical, his mode of speech has a weird eclectic kind of poetry to it. YOu can tell McGhee is having fun with the role . . . and it's fun to watch. e's interfacing with the dialogue in a very poetic way.
Clara Taylor: Amanda Carson plays a good friend of Lonsdale's. She's an artist who always dreamed of doing something amazing, but instead she finds herself working as an interior designer. Judging from the dialogue, we get the feeling that her interior design goes well beyond the basic functionality . . . that she's a genius artist who is trapped by her own sense of practicality and fear of . . . well . . . probably instability. Carson lends a deeply resonant kind of empathy to the role.
Blue: Andrew Parchman plays a jazz intellectual. He's the poetic end of Kemmerling's intellectualism . . . a man capable of riffing in conversation in ways that propel it in new directions. Parchman's performance here is smooth in the extreme, just exactly the way it needs to be . . . but intellectually smooth in a way that binds some of the stray elements and moods of the show together.
Ember Marlwood: Samantha Matrinson plays a college student hopelessly in love with her roommate. Much like Lonsdale, Ember would come across like a pretty flat stereotype were it not for the fact that Matinson does such a good job of breathing life in tot he lines. The fact that there are key moments in the script that require Lonsdale and Ember to carrie the action entirely by themselves speak to the talent and inspiration driving Kriesel and Martinson.
There are many moments where this script feels like a poetry reading . . . abstract and intellectual with just a hint of something more grounded . . . but the real pull of this script is allowing actors to draw the characters into something of substance. And this cast does such a good job of that. There really aren't any dead moments onstage here . . . it's remarkable that this thing came together as quickly as it did . . . it really feels like something that would have been better funded by a major local theatre company with UPAF funding during the regular season. Instead, it's just a group of talented people coming together for a really good show.
The World's Stage Theatre Company's production of Professor Lonsdale runs through July 29th at the Tenth Street Theatre. For ticket reservations, visit Brown Paper Tickets.com