In '5,' it's all accessible except the title

February 23, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Once you get past the confusing title, "5" is one of the more interesting projects to come out of the Theatre Project's collaborative relationship with Towson State University.

Written and directed by Maravene Loeschke, who chairs the TSU theater department, "5" focuses on a group of women who graduated from high school in 1965. However, the title doesn't refer to the mid-point of the '60s or to the number of characters in the show -- there are eight, one of whom primarily represents the women's younger selves.

Instead -- I have this on the author's authority -- the title is the most common answer to a question posed near the end of the show: On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your happiness?

The question is a central theme in a fluid amalgam of text, movement, music and character development that come together in a show that is, by turns, funny, sad, touching and thought-provoking.

Loeschke, a 1965 grad herself, scripted "5" out of interviews with 25 of her classmates, from whom she created composite characters. The first act is loosely structured around the "Buddy Deane Show," a local TV dance program from the '50s and '60s. Deane's broadcast voice repeatedly interrupts the action, either to introduce songs with such loaded titles as "Who Will I Be Tomorrow" or "Big Girls Don't Cry," or to address the characters directly.

After intermission, the narrative function is largely taken over by the late broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, portrayed by the off-stage voice of C. Richard Gillespie. In the style of his "See It Now" shows, Murrow announces he's going to visit the homes of some of the women from "the now famous class of 1965."

Why the class is famous is never explained. Certainly none of Loeschke's characters achieves fame, although their stories are often moving.

Two of the most moving are those of polar opposites.

Binnie Ritchie Holum's Jeanette is a timid born-again Christian, totally controlled by her rich husband, who probably caused the bruises she attempts to hide. In contrast, Linda Chambers' profanity-spewing Dee is the wildest of the bunch, but this uninhibited experimenter in sex and drugs turns out to be one of the most responsible, raising a daughter alone and coping with a parent with Alzheimer's disease.

Whether due to the script or the performers, most of the other characters make less of an impression, although Nancy Lynn Powichroski's Lois delivers a memorable monologue about spending a year making herself over for the 25th reunion, and Susan J. Rotkovitz is empathetic as Connie, a woman who runs her father's business and struggles for recognition in a "man's world."

For the most part, a more even handling of roles would make "5" more of the ensemble piece Loeschke seems to be attempting. In addition, some excessively overt elements would be more effective if they were toned down, particularly Murrow's repeated queries about what's become of the women's dreams.

Finally, Loeschke might re-think that pesky title. It's an unfortunate irony that one of the Theatre Project's most accessible offerings is burdened with one its least accessible titles.

"5"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 27

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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