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  •  REVIEW: THE OCTOBER CRISIS (TO LAURA)

    Caroline Tamas, Julian Stetkevych, and Gayton Scott in the october crisis (to laura)
    Photo by Alejandro Morales
    Caroline Tamas, Julian Stetkevych, and Gayton Scott

    Think of Laura

    "the october crisis (to laura)" is a sexy, stylish tribute to classical Hollywood cinema and a reminder that "Fringe" and "finesse" need not be contradictory terms.

    By FRANK EPISALE
    Offoffoff.com

    Taking much of its inspiration from Otto Preminger’s 1944 Gene Tierney vehicle “Laura,” Alejandro Morales’s “the october crisis (to laura)” is a stylish tribute to classical American cinema. It is also an explication of many a gay man’s fantasy: to discover not only that he is adopted, but also that his birth mother is a whiskey-soaked, torch-singing diva with a secret past and an empty place in her heart.

      
    THE OCTOBER CRISIS (TO LAURA)
    Company: Packawallop Productions.
    Written by: Alejandro Morales.
    Directed by: Scott Ebersold.
    Cast: Timothy Davis, Polly Lee,Gayton Scott, Julian Stetkeyvch, Caroline Tamas .
    Sound design by: Ryan Maeker.
    Set design by: Ann Bartak.
    Costumes by: Kate Rusek.
    Lighting design by: Ben Kato.
    Production stage manager: Arienne Pelletier.
    Music Arrangements by: Masataka Odaka.
    Photographer: Greg Emetaz.
    Stage Manager: Catherine Taft.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    The Players Theatre
    115 MacDougal Street
    Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008

     RELATED ARTICLES
    Fringe Festival 2008
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  • Reviews:
  • Anaïs Nin Goes To Hell
  • beast: a parable
  • Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire
  • China: The Whole Enchilada
  • The Corn Maiden
  • Extraordinary Rendition
  • Hidden Fees*
  • The Longest Running Joke of the Twentieth Century
  • Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
  • Mourn the Living Hector
  • A Nasty Story
  • the october crisis (to laura)
  • Other Bodies
  • Prayer
  • Psalms of a Questionable Nature
  • Raised by Lesbians
  • Reasonable Doubt
  • The Third from the Left
  • Zombie
  • In 1962, with the Cuban missile crisis looming, Marguerite Stone (Gayton Scott) is facing a crisis of her own. While she continues to draw sell-out crowds of admiring fans, she spends more and more time drinking alone in her dressing room, scolding her image in the mirror for its flaws. Worse, the mirror is starting to talk back. The tipping point comes with a letter from the son she hasn’t seen since seventeen years earlier.

    In 1945, Marguerite had still been Laura Parker (Caroline Tamas), who sang Andrews Sisters-style boogie-woogie tunes at a nightclub to pay the bills while her husband Stephen (Timothy Davis) was away fighting in World War II. When Stephen returned from war, he expected his wife to give up her singing career but a limited engagement in Cuba convinced Laura that she could be a star. Forced to choose between domesticity and diva-dom, Laura became Marguerite, leaving Stephen and their young son Stevie behind.

    There’s a lot of plot to unravel as the action moves between 1962 and 1945, between Marguerite and Laura. The complicated backstory, though, serves as a vehicle for the collision and confusion of identities. The mystery is not so much, “What happened” as “Who are these people?” This is one of the many ways in which Morales draws on and pays tribute to Preminger’s film. Masquerading as plot-driven mysteries, both “Laura” and “the october crisis” are actually studies in character, ambition, and attraction.

    Gayton Scott, Julian Stetkeyvch, and Caroline Tamas in the october crisis (to laura)  
    Photo by Alejandro Morales  
    Gayton Scott, Julian Stetkeyvch, and Caroline Tamas
      
    The wordy, clever dialogue further suggests classical Hollywood, and director Scott Ebersold elicits brassy, slightly stylized performances from his actors that evoke the work of Billy Wilder, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Douglas Sirk as well as Preminger. Scott does particularly fine work, taking ownership of the stage with elegantly commanding gestures and the occasional raised eyebrow. When she steps to the microphone, we want to hear her sing, and when she reaches for a scotch, we want a drink too. Polly Lee is endlessly entertaining as Sophie Clark, an obsessive young woman whose compulsions make her startlingly competent as a personal assistant and heartachingly hopeless in her crush on the obviously gay Stevie Parker (Julian Stetkevych.)

    The other actors turn in generally strong performances as well, but struggle with some of the demands of their roles. Caroline Tamas, as the young Laura Parker, is asked to alternate between the poise and confidence of a budding star and the eager-to-please determination of a Rosie-the-Riveter housewife. She comes off remarkably well until she steps to the microphone to sing, discovering as so many actors have before her that convincingly embodying the presence and charisma of torch-singers and rock-stars is no mean feat.

      
      Nitpicking aside, all of the actors are impressive both in their own rights and as an ensemble; this kind of stylistic and emotional coherence is all too rare in Fringe performances.
      
    Julian Stetkeyvch and Timothy Davis both turn in strong performances in dual roles. In the 1962 scenes, Stetkeyvch plays Stevie Parker, a troubled young man struggling both with his sexuality and with his recent discovery of his mother’s identity. In the 1945 scenes, he plays Otto Greene, the worldly trumpet player who seduces Laura Parker into becoming Marguerite Stone. Davis alternates between 1945’s Stephen Parker, an out-of-work attorney just returned from the war, who is embarrassed and threatened by his wife’s new role as breadwinner, and 1962’s Hugo, a powerful entertainment lawyer who is very much in love with his star client. Stetkeyvch is far more successful as Stevie than as Otto, whose forced masculinity feels superficially butch. Davis is in the difficult position of playing men who need to be charming, strong, vulnerable, selfish, and sympathetic all while deferring to the female characters who are the real stars of the show.

    Nitpicking aside, all of the actors are impressive both in their own rights and as an ensemble; this kind of stylistic and emotional coherence is all too rare in Fringe performances.

    The resulting production conjures the tarnished-diva glamour of “Sunset Boulevard,” the backbiting cleverness of “All About Eve,” and the frustrated passions of “All That Heaven Allows.” Morales clearly loves this kind of material, and his infatuation with his own cleverness is easily forgiven because he is so clearly writing less to impress us than to share with us the joy he finds in the words and the music and the atmosphere he’s trying to evoke. In its most successful moments, “the october crisis” feels like the playwright and director have invited us over to curl up on the couch and watch the highlights of their DVD collection late into the night.


      
    In its most successful moments, “the october crisis” feels like the playwright and director have invited us over to curl up on the couch and watch the highlights of their DVD collection late into the night.  

      
    The evening’s few stumbles come when the playwright can’t stop himself from foregrounding the subtext and spelling out the metaphors for an audience better left to draw such connections for themselves. The clearest examples of this are moments in which Laura Parker, via a mirror or an old poster, enters into conversation with Marguerite Stone, accusing her of, among other things, murdering her former self. Thematic threads of this kind are often more powerful when expressed in glances and gestures, in the ellipses that hang between two characters, rather than in such explicit dialogue.

    “the october crisis,” like other work from Packawallop Productions, is ambitious and heartfelt, and realizes a great deal more of its promise than might be expected under the constraints of the Fringe Festival. This play is so close to being what it is trying to be that one can’t help but hope it has a life beyond next week, a chance to finish growing into its aspirations. Fringe audiences should find the show a welcome respite from one-man confessionals, ostensibly transgressive sketch comedies, and creakily “provocative” new musicals. Fringe artists and producers should take it as a reminder that an artful turn of phrase, an accomplished actor, and a joyful theatricality linger longer in the memory of an audience than all the ironic exclamation points and self-satisfied naughtiness that a room full of BFAs can muster.

    AUGUST 15, 2008
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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