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A CurtainUp Review
Free Market

Free Market Ensemble

(clockwise from top left:
Godfrey Simmons,
Arthur French,
Constance Boardman,
Felix Solis, Eunice Wong,
Lourdes Martin
(Photo: Nick Andrews)
The eight plays in the Working Theatre's assemblage under the rubric of Free Market succeed admirably in achieving a sense of cohesion. The pieces, averaging fifteen minutes each, are written by eight different playwrights but are all played on the same set. In one way or another, all address two related work issues: work satisfaction and how the modern practices in the work place tie in to our national and global economy as well as our personal well-being.

The six actors who portray the plays' total of twenty-nine characters are as culturally diverse as their characters. Their diversity extends to their acting. The ensemble groups and regroups at the beginning of each play. Six of the playlets focus on two or three characters and two feature the full cast. Dean Taucher's set, which consists of two sets of panels that look like heat exchangers used in factories and large buildings, unifies the disparate pieces and creates strong visual impact. Jeff Koger's lighting design shifts the mood to fit each situation, with the back panels effectively evolving as scrims which at times transform some of the actors into dancing shadows. The smaller front panels work as electronic billboards to announce the title and characters for each play.

As is true of many short plays, the entries in this collection manage to pack a lot of story into their limited time frame. As typically, some pack more of a wallop than others.

The opener, William Wise's Fire Drill, nicely contrasts two men who work for a large company. Arthur French as Carl represents the old-style company man for whom a job was a lifetime commitment, like a marriage. Geoffrey L. Simmons Jr. as Dave is an efficiency expert who's there to "downsize". His commitment is to the bottom line of whatever company will make him the best offer. The meeting of the two men is well developed. There's also a somewhat superfluous sub-plot which reveals that Dave has a lover who seems to be suffering from AIDS and Dave's techniques that work for dealing with big business employees aren't working for his lover's healthcare worker.

The second and most successful play, Karen Sunde's 2020 Sex Care, brings back Mr. Simmons as Joe, the lover of Sondra (Lourdes Martin), a sex care worker. A third character, Angie Wright (Eunice Wong), is a supervisor who's bent on getting Sondra back on trace to efficiently and enthusiastically delivering her services to the sexually dysfunctional by exposing Joe's true feelings about Sondra's work.

Julie Jensen's Give Us This Day and Sachi Oyama's Poodles) are nice but slight slices of life. Elaine Romero's Day of Our Dead is somewhat too preciously surreal. The other three pieces, including the title play, all have their comic moments but manage to seem overly long despite their short running time.

In the final analysis, the sum of all the parts gains its heft from the smart staging and direction, and above all, the fine acting. The role-to-role transformations are marvelous to watch. Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. actually plays two characters in one play (The Border Crossers Lounge). If I had to name one member of the ensemble as the standout, it would probably be Eunice Wong whose deadpan humor, spot-on timing and Mona Lisa expression enhance five of the eight plays. The famous putdown about a performer having a range from A to B can never apply to any of these versatile actors

Free Market
Written byJim Grimsley, Julie Jensen, Sachi Oyama, OyamO, Guillermo Reyes, Elaine Romero, Karen Sunde and William Wise
Directed by Joseph Megel

Fire Drill by William Wise
2020 Sex Care by Karen Sunde
Day of Our Dead by Elaine Romero
Kickin Summit by OyamO: Wardlow
Free Market by Jim Grimsley
Give Us This Day by Julie Jenscn
Poodles by Saehi Oyama
Thc Border Crossers Lounge by Guillermo Reyes
Cast: Constance Boardman, Arthur French, Lourdes Martin, Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., Felix Solis and Eunice Wong
Set Design: Dean Taucher
Costume Design: Cindy Capraro
Lighting Design: Jeff Koger
Music and Soundscape composed by Michael Keck
Dramaturgy: Emily Franzosa
Running Time: 2 hours, plus 10 minute intermission
Working Theatre at Urband Stages
259 W. 30th St. (7/8 Aves) 279-4200
6/01/01-7/01/01; opening 6/04/01
Monday-Saturday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm-- $30 ($20 for union members, students or seniors)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on une 4th performance J


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