Theatre in the Park is presenting the world premiere of a play by Raleigh playwright Kim Moore entitled Give It Up, Turn It Loose, a loosely-knit series of seven monologues that explore the relationships that lie at the heart of its cast of characters. The play, despite its format, does have a lead character who appears twice as often as any of the others do. These seven monologues, or scenes, are knit together, in this production, by a silent “Assistant” character (Seth Blum), rather like the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The Assistant chooses the cast; gives them their scripts; and facilitates the action by providing sound, props, and lights as they are needed. Blum leads a cast that combines well-known faces with newcomers, and together they give this play a very fine treatment, indeed.
Once he has “selected” the cast, our Assistant introduces the first character, Veronica (Rebecca Blum), to the audience. She wears a red kimono deftly decorated with a gold dragon. Veronica speaks with a German accent; but quickly intimates that it is fake, that she is a gal from Jersey, and that this gorgeous kimono she loves so dearly is from Wal-Mart. She speaks to Daniel, who is absent. Adam Twiss, the show’s director, intimates that every character is having a conversation with someone unseen; and that the other side of the conversation is what we as listeners must glean. But the “dialogue” doesn’t come across that way. If the missing respondent does speak, it is very rarely. In one scene, the respondent is a bird!
Scene two is where we first meet Sheila (Debbie Tullos Strange), a brash young woman who is laden (and that is the operative word here) with a six-year-old daughter. Daughter Jane is right there in the scene; but of course we don’t see her. The Assistant ably provides action but no actual words. It seems Mama, for that is how Jane refers to her, has caught Jane begging for money from the customers of this Laundromat in which they interact. In the upbraiding Sheila gives Jane, it becomes evident that not only is Sheila tired of playing mommie to this brat — she never wanted to have this child in the first place.
The rest of the play consists of what seem to be longer and longer scenes. First comes Billy (Samuel Whisnant), a Super-Jock in his senior year of college who has only one friend, Jack, to whom Billy gives a slideshow presentation to get him to straighten up. Next is Daniel (Byron Jennings), who speaks to his ex-roomie while trying to make a breakfast omelet, something he never has successfully completed. He has set up a kitchen in the basement, using the workbench as a tabletop and the tool pegboard for his gadgets.
Following Daniel is Reagan (Emily Gardenshire), a 17 year old who is moving out of the apartment she has shared with her dad. She’s moving in with Billy, which we all know is a big mistake. She’s the one who converses with a bird. Finally, is Cutler (Shawn Smith), a professor who has been incarcerated for “unspeakable” crimes. He speaks to his mother, another terrible mommie who cannot seem to let him go, despite his fall from grace. Finally, Sheila, 12 years older but no wiser, comes back to describe her separation from her daughter, Jane, now 18 and off at college.
Each of the characters in these scenes is only partially filled out by playwright Kim Moore, which makes the cast work that much harder in this TIP production. The cast is well up to the task, and each performer gives his character every ounce of reality that can be mustered. It doesn’t help. This play is a series of scenes, each one titled and separately staged; they are linked only by a one-line reference within the monologue. The scenes do not really relate to one another. They are not all performed by the same actor, which gives Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll by Eric Bogosian its notoriety; nor are all of the scenes set in one place or even one area, such as Charles Aidman’s stage adaptation of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.
These seven separate scenes seem to have only one thing in common, and that is that all seven characters are on a downward slope from which none of them will recover. So, the dramatic thread, such as it is, is not really a supportive link between the characters, but rather a downspout through which all will tumble. It is not much of a link, and it makes these seven scenes very disjointed and seemingly unrelated, which makes the play little more than seven people inhabiting the same stage, and not even together.
Because Give It Up, Turn It loose was workshopped by Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre Company in 2005, one would have believed it would have come out of workshop in better shape than it is. As it now stands, especially without Twiss’ addition of The Assistant, this is just seven workshop scenes. That link of unseen conversation, as well as the tenuous thread of mutual acquaintance, needs clarification. We need to know not only why the play’s characters are here but, more importantly, why we are here. Otherwise, the audience will let go of this play long before the play lets go of them.
Theatre in the Park presents Give It Up, Turn It Loose Thursday-Friday, Aug. 7-8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 9, at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 10, at 3 p.m.; in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607. $21 ($13 students and active-duty military personnel and $15 seniors 60+). 919/831-6058 or etix through the presenter's site. Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/