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7/16/2014 2:00:00 PM
Review: River Company Opens Summer One-Acts

By Eleanor Cade Busby

Natasha Salvo and Andrea Handel explore artistic inspiration while Ruth Monsell objects in
Natasha Salvo and Andrea Handel explore artistic inspiration while Ruth Monsell objects in "The Eye of the Beholder." (Eleanor Cade Busby photo)
Natasha Salvo (left) discusses her artistic process with artist's model Andrea Handel in
Natasha Salvo (left) discusses her artistic process with artist's model Andrea Handel in "Eye of the Beholder." (Eleanor Cade Busby photo)
River Company opened its 2014 summer season with one-act plays by David Mamet and Kent Broadhurst last weekend. The summer production continues this weekend with 7:30 performances on Friday and Saturday nights and a final matinee on Sunday, July 20 at 3 p.m.

"The Duck Variations" by David Mamet was directed by Ellen Whalley, who also stars with Tom Handel in the piece.

"The Duck Variations" is vintage Mamet, replete with shrewd eavesdropping and hilarious philosophy. This cocky tour de force consists of 14 variations on a theme of ducks (well, each variation alludes to them) shared by two elderly folks on a park bench.

In the River Company version, these bench sitters are a man and a woman. In the original, they were a pair of old men.

Tom Handel, as the opinionated one, brims with half-baked misinformation, wishful thinking, and pontification. He holds forth with the flawless style of everyone's uncle at Thanksgiving dinner; he is a big talker who only needs a listener.

Ellen Whalley, as the more poetic of the two, gives way to imagination: "Whenever I think of wild flying things I wonder."

The two stumble on issues as small as littering and as large as oil spills and death. Mamet's old fogies may be ordinary but together Handel and Whalley create a kind of prayer for our planet.

The acting team is perfectly matched. They play off each other, as old friends or acquaintances will, with interruptions and half-finished thoughts in a natural rhythm.

Handel holds forth and Whalley bears with him with an arched eyebrow or sideways glance to show her disagreement. The duo is hilarious in the "I know that person" way that makes a theater piece delightful.

The staging, interplay and reactions make "The Duck Variations" a must see for theater lovers this summer.

The second piece of the evening is Kent Broadhurst's "Eye of the Beholder." Directed by River Company denizen Ann Foskett, the piece is set in an artist's studio, where two painters, played by Ruth Monsell and Natasha Salvo, are working from a live model, Andrea Handel.

The two artists are quite different in temperament and style, so it is inevitable that their interpretations also differ, resulting in a progressively more heated (and funny) debate about the meaning of art and the superiority of one approach over another.

Monsell offers a controlled, dispassionate, and meticulous artist. She has exactly what she needs, is prepared to work, and acts worried about her work becoming stale.

Salvo is messy, impetuous, and emotionally volatile, a "feeling" artist rather than a methodical one. Her lack of preparation leads to argument and finally the denouement of the piece.

Handel, meanwhile, finds it increasingly difficult to maintain her composure as the verbal battle rages about her, and eventually she, too, joins the fray.

In the end it is Handel who resolves the dispute by pointing out, quite simply, that if an artist is to truly understand what he is painting he must put himself in the place of the model -- which unexpected thought leads to the hilarious and surprising climax of the play.

The two plays of the evening offer quite different comedic writing styles, with "Beholder" the more physical, loud, and outrageous of the pair.

Both one-acts were written to be performed by men and in "Beholder" particularly there are moments where one can see how the humor would play out differently. In "Beholder" the unexpected climax of the piece would play out with much more slapstick hilarity presented by three men.

However, these three women bring more depth to the author's words for lack of that slapstick element. The audience is allowed to understand the very real places from which the conflicts have come and to laugh with understanding with, rather than at, the scene.

To see some bravura performances and have some unexpected laughs, make reservations at 563-8116 and enjoy the quality work of River Company. All performances are in the Porter Hall at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta.

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