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Blind Parrot Productions

Five weeks ago I ended a review of Blind Parrot’s disappointing evening of one-acts, One and Another, Part One, by stating that perhaps the sudden death last September of Blind Parrot’s talented artistic director David Perkins had left a larger creative vacuum in the company than anyone had imagined.

I still believe that. However, after having seen Blind Parrot’s follow-up evening of one-acts, One and Another, Part Two, I’m more hopeful. Sure, in losing Perkins Blind Parrot lost a wonderful, talented, inspired artist who was responsible for such successful productions as Oedipus Requiem and Largo Desolato. But the surviving members clearly have not lost their desire to keep making theater–though neither of the two plays that make up One and Another, Part Two ever approaches the standard set by Perkins in Oedipus Requiem.

The better of the two is George Sand’s Minnesota, a minimalist one-act that is for all practical purposes a puppet show, performed by a single actor using cardboard figures to represent the farmer, his wife, his lazy brother-in-law, and so on. “Here is a play that takes place on top of a kitchen table,” Sand writes in his stage notes, evoking the faux-naif style popular until David Byrne, Garrison Keillor, and Ronald Reagan did it to death.

Yet Sand is after deeper material. His portrait of rural life emphasizes the very qualities Keillor chooses to overlook: not just the tedium of country life or its claustrophobic proviciality–even The Andy Griffith Show commented on that–but also the way farmers must accept the less savory facts of farm life that sentimental city folks like to ignore. For example, how dangerous even the simplest piece of farm machinery can be, or how farmer Alvis must stick his arm “about two miles” into his cows to artificially inseminate them. Still, Sand manages to convey, without slipping into sentimentality, something of the heart in the heart of the country.

It helps that director Peggy Burr has obviously worked hard to keep her production simple and straightforward. And that Jeff Atkins is able to effortlessly imitate the various voices in the story, including that of the gentle, matter-of-fact narrator, without trying to prove he might just be the next Mel Blanc. But what really makes this play work is Burr’s faith in Sand’s little play–she lets its natural charm draw the audience in and doesn’t seem to feel she has to seduce us into liking her show by using a lot of elaborate props or loading Atkins down with unnecessary stage business.

Would that Stephen Vasse Hansell had approached his direction of the other play on the bill with a similar faith in his text. Then he might not have created such a noisy, needlessly broad, annoyingly unfunny production of Anton Chekhov’s The Boor. But then he probably shouldn’t have chosen to direct a play that is far from one of Chekhov’s best: it was written when the author was still more of a hack than an artist and contains few of the subtle ironies and character studies that typify his great plays. Instead it is filled with crazy plot twists–an improbable duel, a suddenly ignited romance–and loud, cartoonish characters.

If Hansell had a little more faith in The Boor, he would never allow his trio of performers–David Lamar Dosch, Martie Sanders, and John Hightower–to interpret their roles with all of the grace, subtlety, and timing of the Three Stooges. Sanders, in particular, fills her interpretation of the widow with so many quirky gestures and affected movements that it’s exhausting to watch her move through a scene.

Still, there’s something oddly attractive, in a campy way, about the archness of this production. And Hansell’s direction has a certain consistency and integrity that makes me wonder whether once he finds the right playwright (say, Charles Ludlam) he might just direct a farce that will fly. Especially if he uses Dosch, who has never looked more at home on the stage than in this bitchy performance as the whiny, bellowing debt collector.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Daniel Guidara.