DAY 312: Add all new bits you’ve been working on to your material list.
Done. Here is a review I received from our play we’re performing in Wilmington!
Highs and Lows
Local playwright’s latest music and comedy hits both
Local playwright John Grudzien presents “Music and Comedy,” a double bill of one-acts at Big Dawg Productions’ Cape Fear Playhouse through the 11th. The evening is composed of a song-and-dance number,
“Beef: The Musical,” and a comedy, “When I Last Saw Davy.”
“Beef: The Musical” follows the adventures of young Patrick Sherman (Matthew Stephen Taylor) home from his freshman year of college. Sherman is working at the local grocery store, and as fate and hormones would have it, he develops a crush on Tina Loton (Tori Keaton), the confused young check-out girl. The grocery store’s atmosphere is dominated by an unspoken rift between the two butchers, Bill Valzano (Doug Shaw) and Tony Guerra (Matt Warzel).
It is the early ‘70s, and the expected tension between the Nixon-loving management and the rock ‘n’ roll-loving Tina and Patrick is addressed in my favorite song from the show, “Sorry, But I Like to Rumba” sung by Matt Warzel. Grudzien wrote the book and lyrics for the show and collaborated with John Sullivan on the score. Sullivan brings a beautiful and responsive ear to the music for “Beef,” which underscores the longing and confusion of its two main characters.
Wilmington audiences are very lucky to have the opportunity to see multiple original productions a year from Grudzien. Though we watch many straight plays produced as original works, it is rare to see a musical workshopped or debuted locally. Though not unheard of, Frank Trimble, Steve Cooper and Bryan Putnam have mounted several original musicals between them. I tip my hat to anyone who does the work and takes the chance to produce an original script—doubly so for a musical. It is a monumental amount of work and a terrifying experience to bare yourself. That being said, “Beef: The Musical” is really at a workshop stage, and from an audience point of view, this can be fascinating.
More than any other art form, theatre requires the creator to see and hear it from an audience perspective. They need to hear the jokes, watch for the tears and feel the audience sing along with the show. This cannot be attempted in an office space alone.
As a playwright, Grudzien strikes me as being on the brink of a breakthrough to the next stage of his career. Right now, though, he needs a team of collaborators. Working with Sullivan on the music is a great step forward. In addition, I think “Beef” needs an insightful director and a choreographer for its next production in order to see it evolve into itself fully.
Tori Keaton as Tina does a wonderful job of manifesting a very confused young lady as seen from the perspective of an even more confused young man. Matthew Stephen Taylor looks like he could be a younger version of Grudzien; with sandy blonde hair and medium build, he radiates a quirky kindness. He encompasses all uncertainty the age 19 brings.
Mostly, I was surprised that for its time period, the draft never gets a mention, which would seem to be a Sword of Damocles for all young men then. Patrick, though confused by life, women and expectations, seems very carefree for someone who should have a lottery number for Vietnam. That having been said, he brings a strong introspective quality to his character that rings true in his interactions with other actors. Suzanne Nystrom’s cameo appearance as the older lady loosing her car but not her zest for life, is a high point in the show.
The second half of Grudzien’s bill is a one-act titled “When I last Saw Davy.” It opens in Rick Hinton’s (Charles Auten) artist loft on a Saturday morning. He answers a knock at the door to find a young lawyer named Chloe Mallard (Terrie Batson) who hands him an urn containing his best friend’s ashes and informs him he is executor of Davy’s estate. Within minutes, his loft has filled with the deceased’s former wife (Lynette O‘Callaghan), step-mother (Suzanna Nystrom) and Davy’s other best friend, O’Brien (Matt Warzel). Warzel, is an incredibly talented comedic actor. Both his rendition of Tony the Butcher and O’Brien, the cartoon-watching, cereal-munching goof, are delightful. He has a fearlessness on stage that makes him irresistible to audiences. Auten does his best as peacemaker with a group of emotional and bickering mourners. It’s a tough job to be the guy in the middle at such a delicate time, but Auten has a soft, almost hypnotic voice onstage. He does wonders for focusing attention and bringing everyone back to the task at hand: Davy’s funeral.
Besides trying to navigate the waters of the mourners, Rick Hinton is taken with the young lawyer Chloe Mallard. Batson is a stunningly talented comedic actress who will go to any length to get a laugh. Seeing her in a very calm, understated role is a nice demonstration of her range of ability.
Mallard is also attracted to Hinton, and they are quietly trying to feel this out while the storm of grief rages around them. It is fascinating to watch this cool, quiet discussion in the background—even more so if audiences know Batson and Auten are a couple in real life.
Grudzien has a wonderful ear for writing comedy. If he teamed up with a really good comedic director, like Steve Vernon, his scripts would blossom even further. Both he and his work deserve a wider audience, and the refining process that comes through workshops and early productions. I look forward to seeing “Beef” and “Davy” again for a second run.