By Art Thomas
I’ve quickly become a fan of convergence-continuum – the quirky theater on Scranton Road. Their current production, “Valparaiso,” keeps with their mission and introduces the area to a play that would not otherwise be seen.
Writer Don DeLillo achieved fame with his novel “White Noise” — an experiment in language and form. As a playwright, DeLillo is still struggling with the nature of theater. Nevertheless, “Valparaiso” is a noble experiment. An ordinary guy, Michael Majeski, took a wrong flight, going not to Valparaiso, Fla., but Chile. What normally would be a mistake, hopefully caught by the airlines, makes the character a celebrity for a time. Eventually, carrying things to a sort of logical conclusion, Majeski finds himself on a TV talk show that promises to probe to his deepest levels.
The play sputters and falters in the first act, composed of very short, episodic scenes that don’t build. Scenes are essentially a variety of interviews by media types who have varying abilities. Most of the cast rotate between camera and sound crew and interviewers. Actor Clint Elston, as Mike, seems unsure of what he wants to communicate to the audience about the character’s intentions. It’s got to be more than just bewilderment at the attention. Despite the fast moving scenes, the act in total seems to drag.
The second act, however, has a confident playwright delivering a sustained scene starting with the talk show audience warmup. Curt Arnold is the sidekick to Delphina, the show’s host. Sporting too much makeup the smarmy sidekick exhorts the audience to “give energy to Delphina.” Lucy Bredeson-Smith as Delphina is talk a show host with a new age veneer. It’s a wonderful character, played with sincerity.
On the show, Majeski has transformed himself from a regular guy into the character’s concept of a celebrity. This includes a long black leather coat and sunglasses along with the genesis of a beard. Similarly, his plain wife, Livia, previously seen riding a stationary bike, reappears very pregnant in a bridesmaid dress. It’s very funny. By this time, actor Elston is in his groove, and the clearly formed choices he makes are confidently presented.
This act is reminiscent of Jerry Springer – both the TV show and “the opera”. It more than compensates for the weaker first act. To be sure, there are weaknesses. A trio of flight attendants function as a Greek Chorus in their commercials that also evoke rap-lite. It’s less successful than it sounds.
Directed by Clyde Simon, “Valparaiso” is an intriguing production that makes the audience think.
A few words about convergence-continuum. The theater is in the Tremont neighborhood on Scranton Road. With 35 seats, it makes Clague Playhouse look large. The tight core of actors and technicians give each of the productions a sense that audience and production staff are making an exploration together. This is a wonderful tribute to the theater experience. Call 216-687-0074 for ticket information. There are generous discounts for seniors and students. Be aware that language in “Valparaiso” is not suitable for children. The show runs through April 16.