Sunday, October 5, 2003

Playhouse's 'One' richly-told story of grown-up themes

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

I predict a happy future for One, the world premiere by Joseph McDonough now opening the Shelterhouse season at Playhouse in the Park.

One has a lot of what grown-up theatergoers like these days: it's smart with a savvy sense of humor (that's a little skewed, even better); it has more questions than answers; it's intimate; it concerns itself with subjects that we all know very well and will never get tired of, as long as we're human - love, loneliness, loss, courage and cowardice in the face of risking your heart, and finding your way to a place where you can live with yourself.

McDonough delivers compelling storytelling from the moment the terrific Anney Giobbe steps to the center of the stage as Emily, setting up what will be three separate monologues, which are loosely woven together with unbreakable threads.

Her hair in a ponytail, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, Giobbe sweeps us up in her world. Clearly a bit of a religious fanatic, sexually repressed Emily struggles with balancing her desire to be "good" with her obsession with the ghost of Civil War soldier Jake Anderson, and with Kyle, the guy who plays him in that TV hit Heavenly Yankee.

Emily takes us along on her strange adventure as she gets in the pick-up and makes the two-hour drive to a mall near Shiloh (where Jake died, his letters unanswered, his love unrequited) for Kyle's personal appearance.

McDonough pulls out laughs, he shifts mood (always with complete control), he takes us by surprise. For all the flourishes, it's the play's foundation of emotional truth, some beautiful language and real emotional warmth that make it a good choice for a night out.

Playhouse gives One the perfect showcase, starting with wonderful direction by Ed Stern, so attuned to McDonough's theatrical voice. Monologue is deceptive - it's easy for it to slip into monotonous, but Stern puts strong performances together with McDonough's sympathetic writing in a real crowd-pleaser.

The action is set against Plexiglas panels carrying the script of the soldier's letters to his lost love. At the back of the stage cellist Isaac Watras provides an effective but never intrusive musical underline (composed by Douglas Lowry).

We move from Emily's story to Kyle's, the Hollywood stud-muffin who, surprise, might have some depth, or at least wants some.

It turns out Kyle (Tim Altmeyer) has been carrying a torch for classmate Jill (Henny Russell) for 20 years. He takes us along to his high school reunion. Who knows what the outcome will be if he can muster just a bit of the bravery of the ghost he plays in prime time.

Altmeyer gets it all - the bad actor but good celebrity, the guy who never did get to know himself. He resonates beautifully as Jake.

Finally we get to know Jill, cool and literary, but also beset by grief and guilt over the death of her longtime lover. These three are held together by moonlight, by a strong streak of Catholicism, by ghosts, by the suffering of every human heart, by the necessity of love.

One runs through Oct. 26 at Playhouse in the Park Shelterhouse, 421-3888.


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