'Furlough' takes too many turns

December 10, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If you've ever boarded the wrong bus, you have an idea of the feeling that dogs much of "Furlough," the latest production by the Women's Project at Theatre Project.

Last season, this local consortium of female theater artists used a similar concept in their production of "Reservations." They took a collection of short plays and gave them a central, unifying theme by setting them in a restaurant. The idea worked pretty well the first time around, but with"Furlough," which sets seven playlets in a bus station just before Christmas, the effort seems forced.

One reason is because only two of the short works have a sense of resolution.

Kathleen Barber's "The Indian Princess from Madrid" is about a mother and 13-year-old daughter waiting for the bus that will take the daughter to visit her recently remarried father.

As portrayed by Linda Chambers and Jessica Christensen, the warm, playful relationship between mother and daughter is touching, as is the pang Chambers' character feels after the daughter boards the bus.

Binnie Ritchie Holum's "Two Down" is also an effective work. In a role similar to the one she played in "Reservations," Holum humorously portrays a woman strongly attracted to a man (Clint Morris). Here, the two share a penchant for crossword puzzles, and their reaction to one puzzle's more suggestive words provides some of the night's most amusing moments.

Three of the production's other short pieces are more like character studies than one-act plays. Though not in depth, these studies can be viewed as a fairly accurate depiction of the superficial glimpse you might get of your fellow passengers if you were stranded in a bus station in a snowstorm (which is the premise here).

Charlotte Sommers' "Ephemeral Family," about three homeless

people, is well-suited to the setting. But its characters -- a religious fanatic (Melissa-Leigh Douglass), a corporate dropout (Bruce Levy) and a runaway (Steve Lenet) -- are too pat.

Barbara Gehring's "Claus & Effect" (about four Salvation Army Santas) and Carol Weinberg's "Von Trapped" (about three college students heading to Stowe, Vt., to research a term paper the von Trapp family) are just plain silly -- as opposed to funny.

Each of the evening's playlets is presented in snippets, interwoven with the others -- a structure that doesn't aid continuity. The stronger pieces, however, surmount this problem; the weaker ones, such as "Claus & Effect," leave you wondering, "What was that about?"

(Nor does it help that a couple of the Santas seem extremely ill at ease.)

Two other selections, Holum's "The News Cast" and Chambers' "The Bus Station," serve primarily as glue holding the rest together. In "The News Cast," Patrick Martyn and Gina DiPeppe are local newscasters who pop up sporadically on the bus station TV as various characters turn it on and off.

"The Bus Station" features two characters -- a taciturn ticket agent (Scott Drake) and a mysterious grandmother figure (Gehring), the latter bringing the evening to a sweet, sentimental conclusion.

The entire production, co-directed by Holum and Chambers, lasts only about an hour. It's an hour, however, that feels unsatisfying, incomplete and, in most cases, not up to the level this group has achieved in the past. It's a little like a bus trip that takes so many detours, it never reaches its destination.

'Furlough'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 20 Tickets: $14

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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