Saturday, January 21, 2012

Theatre Review: Frog’s Milk / Pump Works

Rebecca Henderson, Jeremy Sapp, Pattie Crawford & Tom Dunbar in Frog's Milk Pump Works. Photo by Kevin Robinson.

Frog’s Milk / Pump Works

Written by Rebecca Henderson and Heidi Saunders
Directed by Keith McGill

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Frog’s Milk / Pump Works is unlike any other show currently onstage in Louisville. The result of two separate short scripts being joined together to emphasize shared themes of human connections overcoming loneliness and solitude, it joins oral storytelling tradition and character driven dramatic structures in uneasy alliance.

The evening began with a brief warm-up from noted Kentucky Storyteller Cynthia Changaris that included a tale-old and brief acapella song performance. Rebecca Henderson then took the stage in the guise of “The Bluegrass Gypsy” to further engage the audience with some participatory chants before she settled into her “Frog’s Milk” story. There is a good deal of fey charm and physical grace in Ms. Henderson’s work, but there is also a self-conscious aspect that works against the story’s having its full impact on the audience.

Heidi Saunder’s short play, “Pump Works”, involves a woman whose septic tank is in need of attention, and the two plumbers who have come to do the job. It was more successful because the writing is focused and succinct, and it was well played by the three actors. Pattie Crawford was a striking and charismatic feminine presence, while Tom Dunbar and Jeremy Sapp brought good presence to the masculine plumbers.  The underscoring of the feminine and masculine seemed important to the action but was not overstated.

Director Keith McGill stitches the two together with some care, interjecting the three actors into Ms. Henderson’s monologue and then having her carry some of her poetic language across the action of the play in similar fashion, but to me there was a fundamental contrast between these pieces of material that prevented them from being fully integrated, or, conversely exploited to a fuller purpose, so that the relationship between them was never satisfyingly reconciled.

Yet, credit is due to any effort that experiments with cross pollinating forms and sparking unorthodox collaborations, and the enterprise seems to hold potential. The most effective bridge between the two was the excellent piano accompaniment of Frank Richmond. His original music was reminiscent of the piano scores heard alongside silent films; never overshadowing the action, but providing flavor and establishing tone throughout. The music emphasized the shared qualities that likely inspired this collaboration in the first place.

Whatever my reservations, the production enjoyed a warm reception from a sell-out crowd on opening night, and was accompanied by a buffet of salad, burgoo and cornbread that cut down on conflicts with food service and made for a tasty repast.

Frog’s Milk / Pump Works

January 20. 21, 26, 27, and 28 @ 7:30pm
January 22 @ 2:30pm

The Rudyard Kipling
422 West Oak Street
Louisville, KY 40203
Call 502-267-6915 or email for ticket reservations. For dinner beforehand, please call the Rud 502-636-1311

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