Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Actors' Playground does some serio-comic romping through 'The Subject Was Roses'

Jolene Mentink Moffatt, John Goodson, and Bill Simmons before reading "The Subject Was Roses,." in which they were much more in focus than this photo.
Coming up on its three-year anniversary, the Actors' Playground at Indy Reads Books takes place every third Monday as an outlet for professional actors' interest in plays they love. Getting words off the page and to at least the reading stage is the idea. When good actors are seated before you holding scripts (with someone to one side reading the stage directions) and using their mother wit to realize the drama, it's amazing how much the illusion of real theater can be created.

That was quite the case with this reading by Jolene Mentink Moffatt, John Goodson, and Bill Simmons, the series co-founder and this month's play selector. His choice was Frank D. Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses," a family drama set in post-World War II New York City. The Clearys are of modest middle-class status and have to deal with the uncertainties of a new era amidst unresolved personal conflicts.

Their only child, Timmy, a returning veteran, is ill-at-ease back in his parents' Bronx apartment, and no wonder. Mom and Dad's time-tested incompatibility is set into bold relief by the sudden appearance of a young man in the household, years after they had said goodbye to their boy.

The ebb and flow of the Clearys' interaction was thoroughly involving in this reading, with pauses in all the right places (I'm guessing, but they sure felt right) and the volume and edge to the three characters' vocal strife stunningly projected.

Co-founder Lou Harry welcomed the audience of about a dozen people seated in front of the store's small stage. Simmons told attendees after the reading that "The Subject Was Roses" is among the "20th-century gems" that deserve revival — American plays that perhaps fall into a second tier (beneath works by Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, and a few others, he suggested) but are solid, engaging, and relatively simple to stage.

Simply to have a revival to this extent was fun to experience as a supplement to staged productions here. This is a series I'll have to connect with more often.

These three actors were among a memorable cast in the Phoenix Theatre's production of "One Man, Two Guvnors" in September. Their  upcoming activities include "Skylight" (Theatre on the Square) and "On Clover Road" (Phoenix) for Simmons, beginning work on a graduate degree in educational psychology at Ball State University for Goodson, and "Book of Merman" (Phoenix) for Moffatt.

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