Once again this post finds me in the friendly outpost of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ve made a short yet enjoyable return to this area, primarily to support my friends The Penny Seats in their current and second-ever stage production, What Corbin Knew by Jeffrey Hatcher. Leap Day brought the second performance and consecutive sell out for the company. They have ingeniously enhanced the second stage “Mosh Pit” of larger local company Performance Network for this show. In fact, I see that the whole turn of events epitomizes my own cornerstone three Cs of theatre work: Community, Creativity & Collaboration.
Working on a script like this demonstrates a skillful broadening of horizons for The Penny Seats. The buoyancy and open-air theatrics of last summer have been exchanged for a tight playing space and awareness of unstated nuances. In several cases, what was not explained (or rather what was imagined) had more impact than plot dialogue and wordplay.
The show tells the tale of Roger Corbin, a successful yet somewhat mysterious contractor. He maintains a swanky skybox in a stadium venue, choosing to use the location to introduce two couples who did not previously know each other. Corbin has no way of knowing how the couples will find each other. The plot begins, and immediately thickens, when he’s the last one there to their introductory party… I could say a little bit more about the plot, but on the other hand, I like surprises.
The five actors worked strongly together, and while they seemed to be still balancing out the pacing of a few scenes/parts of dialogue, I’m confident those elements will tie together by the time the show resumes next week. Actors Melynee Saunders Warren and Russ Schwartz delivered particularly nuanced, vivid interpretations of the seemingly more urbane couple whose reality is a little different than that. Roy Sexton and Rebecca Hardin countered as a couple who seems to lead a perfect suburban existence, but has personal challenges to address. Matt Cameron explored the duality of Corbin, serving as the eyeglasses for the audience, but sometimes throwing those off to suggest Corbin’s individuality. Director Jacqui Robbins clearly led with a specificity and creative approach.
Structurally, the show appears to be a comedy at first glance, but Robbins and the cast succeed in holding a slightly uneasy, uncertain tone for the first act that left me knowing something was going to happen. And yet, I still got enveloped in the farcical comedy, so that when the tone shifted, it came as a genuine surprise.
Design elements made the production into a cohesive whole, most notably in a series of creatively colored outfits for the women, and a crucial photograph. The set itself didn’t need to be large scale, relying on imagination through sound design and use of entrances & exits.
I’m delighted to support and encourage a company like the Penny Seats and hope they continue to find success.