Friday, May 7, 2004

Well-conceived 'Note' executed poorly

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In interviews about his new play A Note on the Type, now premiering with Know Theatre Tribe, playwright Kevin Barry has said that the script is a collaborative project between the director and two actors.

The one good thing that's come out of this is that Sunshine Cappelletti knows her role inside out and is the most arresting thing about the hour-long show. But Barry shouldn't do this again any time soon.

The process was probably a great learning experience for everybody involved, but paying to see it is something else.

In Note, Barry visits Abelard and Heloise land, jumping forward a few centuries to an abbey in England where the accommodations are medieval and cell-like.

But for all that, his subject is sexual obsession in the 15th century with a monk lusting after a nun, there's nothing particularly passionate - or believable - about the play.

Driving the action (sort of), the monk is a traveling scribe seeking shelter from a relentless storm. While he's stuck, the nun persuades him to transcribe a mysterious parchment and the action plays out in seven scenes over seven days.

Barry has clearly done his research on the job (including formulas for ink that include ale, lye, wine and sheep urine). The title is also educational, referring to the font used in printing a work.

What he doesn't do is expand his ideas in any meaningful way or create characters that exist outside a theater exercise. No wonder poor Mathew Pyle, seen in preview, still hadn't found the driving force or period sensibility of his character.

Pyle is saddled with a lot of bad dialogue through the course of this hour, such as this bit on the subject of his scribing: "Talent is like a spigot. When it's open it must be put to use" and, on the subject of his faith, "I'm no longer on speaking terms with God."

Cappelletti has a slightly easier job, getting a break from the cheerfully chirping Angelica - who talks with as much banality as any habited character ever played by Julie Andrews - by playing a trio of prostitutes.

Despite a driving rain over the course of a week, impassable roads and that troublesome translation of the parchment, the monk does manage to get to town for some carnal visits, although all he ever does is talk - and talk and talk.

Of course the nun has a deep, dark secret, torn from today's headlines about the church.

Credit director Christine DeFrancesco for keeping the playing space alive, and credit Know for slotting new work by its resident playwright sight unseen.

There's nothing more vital than the willingness of theater companies to question, explore, discover. That's always going to include false starts along the journey.

A Note on the Type, through May 22, Know Theatre Tribe, Gabriel's Corner, Sycamore at Liberty, Over-the-Rhine. 300-5669.


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