The birds and the bees are not all that's in the air this spring on Ithaca's stages. Both the Actor's Workshop of Ithaca Theatre Company and the Kitchen Theatre Company tackle the subject of sex and sexuality in two regional premieres, and while they approach the subject matter in starkly different ways, what both have in common is what one expects from theater in Ithaca: frank, bold and compelling work produced in a thoughtful manner.
The Kitchen Theatre, which last examined romantic relationships through the science fiction sketch comedy "boom," turns to more serious subject matter with Marty Moran's "The Tricky Part." A one-man play directed by Kitchen veteran Sara Lampert Hoover and performed by Carl Danielsen, the piece works through the madness of a "tricky" situation, a tangle of conflicting actions and desires, and ultimately to a place of new understanding.
The play, which won a 2004 Obie Award, is based on Moran's real-life experience. Between the ages of twelve and 15, the playwright had a sexual relationship with an older man, a counselor he'd met at a Catholic boys' camp. Almost 30 years later, at the age of 42, Moran set out to find and face his abuser. "The Tricky Part" tells the story of this relationship and its complex effect on the man Moran became.
"[T]he deeper I went into the story, the more I followed this imperative to be honest, and the longer I performed it, I experienced the ultimate, ultimate paradox: this very personal story was not about 'me,'" Moran told KTC Artistic Director Rachel Lampert by email. "When you dig deep you hit the core questions surrounding human existence: how do we, transcend and move on from what we think of as damage? How do we make peace with the past? How do we truly forgive? These are not Marty questions, they are human questions. And so, in performing the piece, I began to feel an ultimate liberation. That I wasn't talking about myself, but us."
Growing up in an exemplary Irish Catholic family - Moran's great aunt was a cloistered nun - though he may have lived in a Denver suburb, his family belonged to Christ The King, the church and school up the hill. He then met Bob, a Vietnam Vet carving a ranch camp out of the mountain, who showed boys how to milk cows, mend barbed wire fences, and river raft. He also noticed a young boy (Moran) and introduced that boy to "the secret at the center of bodies."
"The Tricky Part" follows in the tradition of Spaulding Gray, and combines the immediacy and emotion of a real-life experience with the wisdom and thoughtfulness provided by the passage of time-all with minimal props and a single spotlight.
"The Tricky Part" previews at the Kitchen Theatre on March 23, 24 and 25. Opening Night is Saturday, March 26, and performances continue through April 10. This show is recommended for ages sixteen and up. For tickets, call (607) 273-4497, visit Ticket Center Ithaca at 171 The Commons, or go to www.kitchentheatre.org.
'Poonah' is NOT for the kids
Over at the Actor's Workshop of Ithaca Theater Company, the provocative company continues its inaugural season with a play that has an almost unprintable title. But if you can get past the dirty bits of "Poonah the F*** Dog (And Other Plays for Children)" (Note: Children = 18+), you'll find a political farce less cringe-worthy than conversation-starting. Organizers promise that though the work may be short on political correctness, it's full of heart. Performances are at Cornell's Risley Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25-26, and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 27.
"I came across this play while looking for one-act monologues," Director David Kossack said by phone. "When I read it, I loved the humor, I loved that it was not PC, not gentle, but really fun. It's not nasty but it certainly doesn't hold back."
The work is described as an adult fairytale, and centers on a character "that meets up with aliens, talking shrubs, and mealy-mouthed salesmen in her quest to find someone to play [with]. Nothing is sacred in this raucous assault on the power of language." Judging by reviews, audience members should expect puns, and fun.
"Sure there are some things that might be a bit much, but it's really about language and mockery more than anything else," Kossack continued.
"What I like about it is that it goes after every social ill in our society, from homophobia and sexism to our obsession with social media," Artistic Director Eliza VanCort said by phone. "This was to be the first comedy, and when we decided to do that we wanted a 'take-no-prisoners' comedy."
Though controversy is nothing new for the Actor's Workshop, the scale of the production is. With more than 20 actors, and a crew of about 40, "Poona" is quite an ambitious production for a black-box theater.
According to VanCort: "The show is a spectacle, so it's a huge cast. We have someone tap-dancing, we have Eric Kincaid playing a giant penis. There's something for everyone."
For tickets, visit Ticket Center Ithaca, 171 The Commons, which is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday - Saturday; call (607) 273-4497, go to ithacaevents.com, or to the box office at Risley Theater. Advance tickets are $15, and $10 for students and seniors, $25 / $20 day of the show). Visit www.actorsworkshop.biz for information.