Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Theater Review: The View From Here

Photos from the Internet

Little Hibiscus Productions is a theater troupe founded and run by Sara Towber, and their latest staging is Margaret Dulaney’s comedy, The View From Here. It is currently mounted at the Sage Theatre (more info on both at the bottom).

As one enters the intimate theater, Sara – or rather her character, Maple – is prone on the couch, the centerpiece of the living room set. She is staring straight ahead toward the audience, in a still, stiff way. Wafting over the speakers are ‘80s hits, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” which is appropriate since the story takes place in mid-1980s suburban Kentucky.

Jennifer Laine Williams plays Fern Shaw

The play truly kicks in with the arrival of Fern, the central character, energetically and engagingly played by Jennifer Laine Williams. From the start, she embodies the title of the piece, watching her neighbors through the windows and doors via a pair of binoculars. She explains, through a well delivered and impassioned, lengthy expositional opening monolog, about the onset of her agoraphobia, and how she has not left her house in years. Jennifer plays Fern with a dignity that is touching, rather than playing her just for laughs or pity. She ably holds up the play, willing to go the extra effort to humanize Fern, and yet still be willing to throw herself around the room.

Sara Towber plays Maple

Maple, it seems, is her sister, and is having some problems of her own, being that she has just separated from a husband who wants her to be a bit more of, well, someone else. Her current catatonia is certainly the calm before the storm. She has wider ranges of moods of the other characters in the play, from stunned, to scared, angry, loving, and as a caretaker. Sara plays her with dignity and humanity. The audience never wants to laugh at her, but rather with her situation and the way it is playing out.

Lexi Windsor plays Carla

Soon to arrive is Carla, hyperly portrayed by Lexi Windsor. Carla is the personification of the period, with loud clothes, big hair, spatula-level make-up, and a fascination for all things lurid that one might find on Donahue or in the tabloids. She’s sort of like Flo from the Alice sit-com, but I would like to point out that while the language-mangling character of Carla could easily be made into a caricature, Lexi ably keeps her humanity to the forefront, and the over-the-top-ness to a minimum (unlike Flo).

Timothy Goodwin plays "Arnold"

Last to arrive to this four-person party is “Arnold” (you’ll have to see the play to get quotation reference), a golf-obsessed neighbor and possible love interest whose wife just walked out on him (taking the microwave!), leaving him with an infant child. Timothy Goodwin, who plays Arnold, gets to have a lone, short-and-sad end-of-act moment. As this is another character that can easily be played for merely a comic or pathos relief, Timothy brings grace to him.

The play is certainly well written, with strong characters, a nice mix of humorous styles and some dramatic moments, but in less talented hands, it could also have been a mess of clich├ęs and melodrama. Fortunately, under the direction of Scott C. Embler and a talented cast, the story plays out as a group of people who have either developed relationships or are in the process of doing so, rather than a group of individuals who are cartoons.

Despite Maple’s moping about at the beginning, this is a very physical production. There is nearly always motion going on somewhere, whether it is Arnold hitting golf balls into an unlidded baby sippy cup (a very nice touch), or a mortified Fern throwing herself over, under, and into various set pieces. There seems to always be someone answering the phone (Fern and Maple’s mom is an unseen regular character), getting locked in a bathroom, or handling appropriately dated magazines.

There are a lot of cultural hitching posts for the time frame throughout the play, such as mentions of Donahue, a dog-barking machine (I actually know someone who had one), and even some of the Jane Fonda Workout Tape. The set itself is timeless, though (with the exception of the dial phone), though many of the outfits worn by the characters feel time appropriate, especially those worn by Carla, as mentioned previously.

This play is in two parts with an intermission, and a number of acts to break up each half. The two-hour length goes by very quickly, helped by the snappy dialog and near constant motion. It was an extremely fun evening and it is quite easy to recommend this production.

The Sage Theatre is on the second floor at 711 Seventh Avenue, which is between 47 and 48 Street, in the heart of New York’s Theater District. Reservations can be made at 212-868-4444.

Here is the mission statement of Little Hibiscus Productions:
Little Hibiscus Productions purpose is to create a New York City based performing arts ensemble dedicated to creating, developing and staging, affordable quality plays and programs and with a commitment to provide opportunities for the collaboration of new and established playwrights, local actors, directors, designers, as well as industry professionals to express themselves artistically, build lasting creative relationships, to be seen and heard and to work together to develop and perform programs that are topical and relevant to the communities they represent with an emphasis on women playwrights.
Inquiries should be directed to Sara Towber at (917) 689-6685 or via email at

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