Speech Stumps

'Fair Game' trips off the tongue; 'Comic Potential' speaks machine language

Every now and then, the characters in Fair Game stop pontificating just long enough to get physical. They engage in lusty embraces and lingering glances. They play with bed sheets and take swigs of alcohol. Having seen so much energy expended on firing off anecdotes and trying to win arguments with abstractions, one is relieved to learn the material world hasn't been left behind.

The material world deserves some credit in Fair Game. Eye of the Storm Theatre's production mostly seems intended to exhibit the power of words. The suggestion is that with some crafty rhetoric, "there is nothing so bad it can't be made to look good." That's the advice Gov. Karen Werthman (Claudia Wilkens) receives after her presidential campaign is threatened by scandal. Karen's adult son, her campaign manager, and college student Elizabeth all react personally to the crisis. They converse about the wait "for a unique event" in the "smooth surface" of reality, and they employ concepts from theoretical physics for metaphors. While their words are dazzling, it is often the gestures, silences, and eye contact that suggest the characters' inner lives.

Playwright Karl Gajdusek is a master of churning out a kind of glossy political oratory that is clearly dear to his heart. But there is so much of it in Fair Game that we are often left to assume that the characters' private thoughts are the same as their public façades--clever, verbose, and arrogant. Director Casey Stangl has mined the script for as many moments of real intimacy as possible, and they occur, not coincidentally, whenever anguish, grief, or hormones interrupt the speeches.

I pledge allegiance to a little tawdry lovin': Eye of the Storm's 'Fair Game'
I pledge allegiance to a little tawdry lovin': Eye of the Storm's 'Fair Game'

When Elizabeth seduces her professor, the scholar's labyrinthine rhetoric deteriorates beautifully into "I've always wondered how these things actually happen." In the second act, Werthman and her allies confront opponent Senator Graber, who spouts anodyne, patriotic sentiments in a hoary Southern accent. During this wonderfully surreal pseudo debate, they are forced to stop explaining their philosophy and start acting upon it. On these occasions, Fair Game is at its thought-provoking best. Werthman's realization that she cannot adhere to her own lofty ideals and still win the presidency comes through entirely in Wilkins's disheartened and knowing gaze, without so much as a metaphorical peep.

 

From Spielberg to S1m0ne, everyone loves cuddly robots that triumphantly prove to be superior moral examples, companions, and lovers. Theatre in the Round's Comic Potentialfeatures a synthetic starlet ("an actoid") named JC333 (Alyssa Cartwright) who works on the futuristic set of a British soap opera. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn wisely abstains from waxing too poetic about "Jacie's" emerging humanity ("I have a malfunction!"). The dialogue and set design bring to mind what might occur if the cast of Fawlty Towers were physically corralled into an episode of The Jetsons and forced to recite lines from One Life to Live. Ayckbourn has allowed himself access to such a broad spectrum of clichés, he could shoot blindfolded at his targets and still end up striking a vital organ.

And vital organs are all over the place in Potential, even though this production's satirical jabs are too light to draw much blood. From the hospital set to the shamefully delightful scene involving robot anatomy that kick-starts the second act, the sight gags are executed with gleeful earnestness. Refraining from complete cynicism, this Potential aspires to mock saccharine plot devices while simultaneously requesting that we buy into them all over again. Consequently, the cast seems slightly uncertain how much conviction they should have in the boy-meets-mechanized-girl story. Jacie laments that, when she is off-stage, she "will always stay the same." Yet the same could be said about any of the stock sitcom characters when they're not being given a specific gag or punch line. True, the alcoholic director and the power-hungry vixen produce plenty of chuckles. But their presence makes little contribution toward a resolution that is, nonetheless, like Jacie herself, benignly charming.

 
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