‘The zoo story’ and ‘remains’
Thursday, September 28, 2017
By ERIC MCCREA
The Youngstown Playhouse packed the house last weekend with the opening of “An Evening of One-Acts,” featuring a new locally written play and a classic.
Both acts featured James McClellan, Playhouse operations manager, and Nick Mulichak, vice president of the newly renamed Hopewell Theater, which fostered a sense of collaboration.
“Remains,” by local attorney Richard William Machuga, follows two longtime friends as they hash out a few details about end-of-life preparations. Though the arrangements being made are fairly legal, the jargon is toned down and digestible. The dialogue is full of funny lines, with a few moments of emotional connection.
Busy blocking added some heartiness to this act, but a lack of deep conflict left this show in the “light comedy” category. The set felt slightly intrusive in the small venue but gave the actors a full space in which to perform.
McClellan and Mulichak were great together. Their banter and rapport felt natural, a credit to Machuga. The duo had an “Odd Couple” feel without that why-are-they-friends aftertaste.
“The Zoo Story” was the first play written by Edward Albee, and was later expanded into two acts. The Playhouse staged the work in its original one-act format.
Peter (McClellan) is sitting in Central Park when he’s interrupted by Jerry (Mulichak), who has just come from the zoo. The conversation has little to do with zoos after that point and detours into topics such as humanity, our wanting for true communication and understanding, and the inequalities of society. The scene becomes tense and dark, eventually becoming violent.
The story definitely has drive, but it leaves the audience with a lot of unanswered questions about the motivation behind Jerry. The acting was more intense, showing off what the actors can really do. McClellan and Mulichak were able to walk a fine line, balancing the disturbing with the intriguing.
McClellan was amazing, as usual. It’s clear that his administrative duties have not slowed him down on stage.
As Peter, he was not the focus, but his reactions were professional and on point. As David, he was a master of back-and-forth.
Mulichak was solid through and through. The amount of subtext behind Jerry was especially impressive. His performance of Jerry had the audience captivated immediately. During his performance as Mickey, he was energetic and hilarious.
These two acts, performed together, were complementary: a light, slightly macabre comedy and a gritty take on society and life. Using the same two actors created some contrast that might not have been present with separate casts.
The decision to have two directors, each working on an act, was brilliant and made both acts distinct.
David Vosburgh, director of “Remains,” was fantastic at taking a new script and making it feel established. Johnny Pecano, director of “The Zoo Story,” chose a dark and almost bare set to allow the script to be paramount.
“An Evening of One-Acts” will continue Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. For reservations, call the Youngstown Playhouse at 330-788-8739.