Review by Shawn Maus of Smoke and Bloodlines: Miami University Theatre
Miami University’s Department of Theatre presents Smoke and Bloodlines, a night of one act plays, from September 30 through October 3. Yes, it’s a limited engagement, but try to attend. It’s a night of theatre that we don’t see much around town, that leaves the audience with a rich, vivid, engaging experience of what black box theatre and up-and-coming college theatre students can do.
In just two hours, Studio 88 races from a smoking bar in Santa Monica to a no-man’s land of debris and decay. By its nature, staging one-act plays is difficult for theatre artists, challenging them to work in a confined space, but can be so satisfying when they succeed. Scenic Designer Gion DeFrancesco made brilliant use of the off-kilter levels of the stage to help suggest that something is wrong in both worlds.
Director Kaela Smith’s The Last Cigarette seemed a work in progress with the actors not quite finding believable relationships and cadences. In the last smoking bar in Santa Monica, a beautiful woman in a green evening dress sits alone, smoking and drinking martinis. She has a past, a secret and no future. Watching her from the bar while he drinks doubles is a man with little to lose who will stop at nothing to win her. As they are leaving together, she reveals her secret. While the play is centered on the dark downbeat theme of film noir, it feel like a mixed bag of high school dating angst and melodrama rather than the humanity and truth the director suggests in the program notes. There is a haunting confession and portrayal of a suicide that asks us to question how we truly affect those whom we know and those we might not know.
The tidiest and most effective of the series, These Seven Sicknesses: Oedipus is an original interpretation of the classic Greek play by Sophocles. While his subjects starve and die from the plague, Oedipus loses control over them. The actors create a stunning portrait of the human condition, where the intermingling of chance and fate yields disquieting results. Even though there is gender-reversal, it’s smooth tracking of the plot. Colin Sapienza, who is ringer for Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, portrays Oedipus with addictive intensity. He has some spew-hurling tirades, but also can make you weep for at his longing for a better life. There are highs and lows in the production, but Jada Harris as Sick Man steals the show. If you are smart enough to keep your eyes on her as she writhes in pain, you’ll get chills up your spine.
Russ Blain’s mood-driven lighting complements the stark and brooding set of both plays, allowing the actors to create any scene without the use of surplus props and scenery.
Both shows raise important questions about the human condition and these rich questions are enduring and inescapable.