May 25, 2010

Motherless children have a hard time
by Greg Boyle

There are so many things in our fair city that don’t work; that never live up to expectations; that leave us wanting. The Chiefs and the Royals, the school district, city hall, expensive and worthless TIF projects — the list goes on and on. However, miraculously, against all odds, in the heart of the Heartland, 1,200 miles from New York, and 1,600 miles from LA, Cowtown has a theatre scene that the rest of the country should envy (if they only knew). 

To add to Kansas City’s already existing wealth of live theatres, yet another new venue, called The Living Room, presents its first full production this week, and the show is a knockout! The title is On An Average Day by John Kolvenbach, and features a two-person cast of Rusty Sneary and Matt Weiss, directed by Scott Cordes. This trio has put together a tour-de-force production that grabs you the moment the lights come up, and doesn’t turn you loose until the lights fade out at the end.

Still of Jack and Bob
Rusty Sneary as Jack, and Matt Weiss as Bob revisit their dark past in On An Average Day.

Kolvenbach’s script is reminiscent of the works of Sam Shepherd at the height of his powers. Kolvenbach’s characters use imagery in ways that catch you off guard and take your breath away, because the speeches don’t require it, but you appreciate the characters more because of its presence. Some speeches are like listening to a Tom Waits song, with poetry and descriptive phrases popping up in the middle of what starts as a mundane story.

The two characters are brothers who haven’t seen each other in years. Bob, played by Weiss, has been living in the home they grew up in. A quick glance at the kitchen set tells the audience that the place has seen much better days. Jack, played by Sneary, appears unexpected and unannounced, and the brothers spend the evening hashing out their dark past.

Both characters are in the throes of crisis, and the old homestead is the center of gravity of their lives. Bob has never left, and wouldn’t know where else to go. Jack has made a life, but is instinctively drawn back in his time of trouble. Jack had raised Bob in the absence of a mother and father. That kind of relationship is always fraught with difficulties and strong feelings, wreaking emotional havoc on both parties. These two are deeply scarred; Jack just hides it better.

Weiss performs with an emotional intensity that practically ignites the stage. His character has a profound need to be heard and understood, so he keeps talking and talking even though his words don’t seem to be answering the question he was asked. Jack must sift through all the words and images to pull out his real meaning and the point Bob is trying to make. Sneary’s low-key, world-weary delivery is perfectly on-target to provide the grounding to keep Weiss’ intensity from getting out of control. Credit director Scott Cordes, well known locally for his fine acting performances, for giving this production the yin-yang balance that makes it work so brilliantly.

According to producer Shawnna Journagan, The Living Room expects to present a full season of productions, perhaps as soon as next year. Their focus will be on new, non-musical material. In addition, the space, located in the Crossroads Arts District, will offer non-theatrical productions, such as fashion and art shows.

Saturday and Sunday, the 29th and 30th, musician Terrence Moore, of the local band American Catastrophe, will perform at intermission.

In an effort to allow local artists the opportunity to see On An Average Day, The Living Room has created an unusual performance schedule. Show times will be Friday the 28th through Monday the 31st at 8 pm. There is also a matinee Sunday at 3pm. The show reopens on Thursday June 3 at 8pm, and then Friday June 4 (First Friday) at 10pm. The closing night performance is Saturday June 5 at 8pm.

The Living Room is located at 1818 McGee. Call 816-221-4260 for reservations, or online at www.thelivingroomkc.com.


Greg Boyle may be contacted at gbboyle@kc.rr.com.