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Our Inaugural Food:Soul "Pretty theft"

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 Leave a Comment

This past Sunday the 2nd, Flux held our first Food:Soul, a potluck play reading series. The food was provided by Flux, and the play was Adam Szymkowicz's Pretty Theft (Adam's pic to the left.) Heather Cohn directed, and the cast featured Tiffany Clementi, Charlotte Graham, Elise Link, Kelly O ' Donnell, Brian Pracht, Zack Robidas, Jane Taylor and Greg Waller, with stage directions read by Felicia Hudson. It ended up being a truly satisfying evening of food, theatre, and community.

The rehearsal process, while short, had that rare energy where everyone believes in the play, trusts each other, and has a good (while focused) time. Part of it was Heather's smart use of time (and passion for the play), and part of it was just the luck that comes from the right group of actors in the room together.

And the process revealed more fully the deceptive structure and full texture of this beautiful play. Pretty Theft follows Allegra (Charlotte Graham), a high school girl with little self-confidence and a dying father, as she develops an unusual relationship with Joe (Brian Pracht), an autistic young man obsessed with ballerinas at the group home she works at. It also follows her road trip adventure with Suzy (Tiffany Clementi), the high school's bad girl, and their encounter with Marco (Greg Waller), a mysterious thief trying to retire.

The play is about how beauty is stolen, and what survives the theft. Adam begins with the characters stealing little things- Joe stealing a pencil from Allegra, the supervisor (Kelly O'Donnell) taking Joe's thefts back, Suzy shoplifting lipstick - and then the theft escalates, literally and metaphorically, with Suzy stealing Allegra's boyfriend Bobby (Zack Robidas), death stealing her father, and Allegra dealing with those losses by stealing Joe's peace of mind with a kiss. These events lead the girls to steal a car to run from the funeral and Allegra's bitter mother (Elise Link), which leads them to Marco, and the most horrific theft of the play.

Marco has spent much of the play seemingly in a another story, a charming tale of a rogue thief settling down with a salty diner waitress (Jane Taylor). His tales of how to steal and never be caught seem to be thematic counterpoint to the main story. But when Allegra and Suzy break up their romance by walking into the diner, Adam's clever structure reveals itself, as Marco charms the girls back to his room, gives them drugged drinks, and takes pictures of their naked bodies. As Marco tells Allegra, "when you look at something beautiful, it takes a little piece of your soul...and when it takes from you, you have to take back."

Beauty manifests itself throughout this play in surprising ways. Joe is obsessed with ballerinas (and believes the clumsy Allegra to be one), and ballerinas frame the story, assuming secondary roles, leading dream sequences, and telling Joe's back story. Marco tells the waitress how if the theft can't be beautiful, you shouldn't do it all, saying "If you do not hear the music, do not proceed." Suzy is convinced Allegra is beautiful, and so steals her man. Joe makes Allegra feel beautiful, so she uses him in spite of her good intentions. The waitress lets Marco take the girls unhindered, knowing they may never be seen again, because their youth made her feel less beautiful. Beauty takes something from all the characters, and so they, like Marco in kind if not degree, take something back.

But the play is not half so dark or cerebral as this outline makes it out to be. Antic humor and wit laces through all the scenes, and the best comedy in the play comes from the darkest moments. After the kidnapping and the rape, when Marco says "Would you like to come with me?" and Suzy lashes back "I'm not going anywhere with you", Marco replies simply, "Not you." And even though he is a terrible man, that 'not you' hurts Suzy so badly that she breaks down, asking Allegra, "What's wrong with me?" This moment, heart breakingly played by Tiffany, got one of the biggest laughs of the show; and to get a laugh in such a troubling place lets you know just how complex, difficult and human Adam's comedy and characters are capable of being.

But the play doesn't end in either darkness or laughter. Rather, Allegra gives two gifts in spite of what's been done to her, showing that she is possessed of a true and lasting beauty (and all the more ironic that only the thief Marco and the autistic Joe could see it). As the girls see the polaroids that terrible man took of their naked, drugged bodies, Allegra tells Suzy how beautiful she looks, and they survive that moment. Then, after a slow stage ritual of burning the pictures, the play ends with Allegra returning to Joe in the group home, apologizing for what she did, and after an entire play of not being able to dance beautifully like the ballerinas; Allegra dances like a ballerina for Joe, and tells him not to look away, saying, "It's not wrong". Pretty things can take something from you, but there are kinds of beauty that give.

And Adam's play gives that kind of beauty.

Highlights include the clarity of Heather's direction; Kelly's grinning supervisor; Elise's terrifying Mom; Charlotte slowly revealing Allergra's fury at the disappointments of the world, and her capacity to overcome them; Zack's deadpan comedy as the hilariously selfish Bobby; Tiffany's bubbling and vulnerable Suzy; Jane's twist of the knife as her Waitress' loneliness became something dangerous; Greg's calmly ecstatic "music!" at the capture of Allegra; and Brian capturing the layers of strength and love within the rhythms of Joe's autistic speech.

Thanks to all the Fluxers who made such glorious food, including Candice's congnac balls, Christina's eggplant parmesan and my own humble twice-baked potatoes. And a very special thanks to all the people who came out to share this inaugural Food:Soul, including representatives from the Old Vic, Stages on the Sound, New York Theatre Workshop, Wild Child Productions, Kaliyuga Arts, Oracle Theatre Inc., Working Man's Clothes, Playful Substance Fractured Atlas, CORE Theatre, and Packawallop Productions. Food:Soul was created to share plays Flux Theatre Ensemble cares about with the wider NYC theatre community, and on Sunday December 2nd, we did. So thanks again to everyone.