Saturday, April 02, 2011

Theatrical Review: “Skyscraper”

Theatrical Review: “Skyscraper”
Written by: David Auburn
Directed by: Rob Ramos
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz

The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA presented The Worthington Players production of “Skyscraper” by David Auburn who is best known for his play “Proof” which was awarded the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play and The Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It also became a film in 2005. “Skyscraper” was Mr. Auburn’s first full length play and was first presented in 1997. Prior to writing this play, he spent two years in The Juilliard School's playwriting program in which he study under Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. For those who are familiar with their work, their influence on Mr. Auburn can be clearly seen. Yet, “Skyscraper” does have Mr. Auburn’s individual voice which became more profound in his later works.

This well acted production of “Skyscraper” takes place in the city of Chicago, Ill in 1997 and begins with an awkward prologue in which the characters are introduced. It’s awkward in that it seems unnecessary and does nothing to provide meaning to the play or it’s characters. This awkwardness is made more evident but the fact the characters are clumsily bumping into one another and falling flat upon the stage. Perhaps the playwright was commenting on what he feels about plays who find it necessary to present an air of self importance by adding a pretentious prologue to the work, but it’s real presence in this play eludes this reviewer.

However, once the play begins with a scene on a rooftop between a woman named “Vivian” as portrayed by Amy Cramer (who also as the production’s Scenic Designer) and a 110 year old man named “Louis” as portrayed by Robin Kessler, it begins to captivate the audience by bringing them into the relationship of the two characters. Their pivotally to the play isn’t fully realized until the end of the production, but their comic/tragic relationship faithfully reflects the essence of the theatrical arts as it compels us with a desire to learn more about them.

We are then introduced to characters who aid us in our discovery while establishing their own individual characteristics from which we would like to learn more about. They include Jessica (as portrayed by Juliet Dunham) who is a photographer filled with the desire to save a historic building doomed for demolition, Jane (as portrayed by Kate DiGerolamo) whose purpose in life seems to be to date lots of men, Raymond (as portrayed by John Bradley) who owns the company responsible for the building’s impending demolition, and Joseph (as portrayed by Ryan Moore) who is Raymond’s philosophical employee and brother who becomes unemployed and mistakenly becomes the focus of Jane’s sensual desires. The cast is rounded off by the appearance of Cameron Cramer as the waiter who also serves the production as a stagehand.

It’s been said the “Skyscraper” is “a serious comedy about the deterioration of ingenuity and art.” While it is indeed a serious comedy, it is much more profound than a play about the deterioration of ingenuity and art. But, trying to define this play by placing any description to what it’s about would be a great disservice to the work. It is about a good number of things as the play doesn’t evolve through the typical plot driven narrative most theatre goers are accustomed to. Instead, the play’s exposition is revealed through its characters and the stories they have to tell through their words and deeds.

This theatrical approach tends to involve the audience more deeply into the play as they are inspired to think “Ah, that’s what the play is about” until another exchange between the characters cause the audience to think “Oh, wait. This is what the play is about.” Perceptions of what the play is saying to the audience change throughout the production and this make the theatrical experience much more engaging, Of course, there are times when this approach becomes a devise just used to confuse the audience so they avoid realizing what a bad play it is, but this is certainly not the case with “Skyscraper.”

Except for the presence of the prologue this reviewer has already mentioned, the play is well crafted and the acting presented in this production was very good. This is especially true of the portrayal of Louis by Robin Kessler. It is very difficult for a young actor to play a much older one without succumbing to the temptation of creating a characterization of the role. But, Mr. Kessler’s portrayal brings Louis to life in a very believable way. This does not discount the talents of the other actors in the play as their individual theatrical skills are quite considerable. However, the play does tend to center around the Louis character and any violation to the “suspension of disbelief” by the actor portraying the role diminishes the believability of the entire play along with all of its the characters.

The well crafted direction of the play should be acknowledged as a definitive element to bringing Mr. Auburn’s work to a meaningful and faithful production. Rob Ramos has appeared in several productions presented at The Shawnee Playhouse and other venues. The skills he accumulated as an outstanding actor translates well in his role as a director. It is said a director who wishes to be a good one must first become an accomplished actor. The thought behind this is not only does the director needs to have an intimate understanding of the play and all it’s themes (apparent and implied), but he/she needs to know how to inspire the actors to bring about performances that honors the work. This production of David Auburn’s “Skyscraper” gives credence to this mindset and kudos to Mr. Ramos for giving it a great deal of validity.

The Worthington Players production of “Skyscraper” by David Auburn was directed by Rob Ramos and Stage Managed by Tom Nordon. The Lighting and Sound Technician was David Schappert. All of the productions presented at The Shawnee Playhouse are produced by Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood. The Executive of The Shawnee Playhouse is Midge McClosky while its group sales manager is Mary Horn. The Box Office Staff includes Chrissy McMannus and Ariel Hudak. Becky Haskell serves as the playhouse’s Sales and Marketing Director.

The Worthington Players production of “Skyscraper” by David Auburn continues its run until April 3rd. It’s unfortunate this reviewer was unable to review this production earlier during its presentation, but there is still time for those who read this review to see it. I would recommend doing so as it does hold a great deal of meaning for those who manage to attend the production before it closes. You may do so by contacting The Shawnee Playhouse from the information found at the conclusion of this review.

The Worthington Players serves as the artistic arm of The Shawnee Institute which was formed in December of 1999 as a 501-C3 organization designed to provide diverse, quality artistic programs to the residents of the historic village of Shawnee and the surrounding areas. In addition to holding its Annual Playwright Completion, The Worthington Players performs their non-musical productions from January to March. Please contact The Shawnee Playhouse to learn how you can become a part of The Worthington Players and support The Shawnee Institute.

Future presentations at The Shawnee Playhouse will include The Prestige Productions presentation of “Love, Sex, and The I. R. S.” by William Van Zant and Jane Milmore April 8th - 17th along with The Center Stage Players production of “Love Letters” by A. R. Gurney April 22nd - May 1st and “The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson. Those who enjoy the Passionate Art Lover level of membership in The Forwardian Arts Society are offered a $3.00 discount off the admission fee of The Shawnee Playhouse Productions (excluding Children Theatrical Productions and those presented by non Shawnee Production Companies). Please contact The Shawnee Playhouse at 570-421-5093 or Explore their website at for more information and to reserve your ticket.

Photograph provided by The Shawnee Playhouse.

No comments: