Midsummer Treats

Mr. Paradise and The White Liars, part of the Theatrical Treats series

At Victoria Hall, Wednesday, July 19.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

The lunchtime theater series at Victoria Hall, Theatrical Treats, features readings of well-known playwrights and new plays. The idea for this experience came to attorney and actor Jerold Oshinsky on a recent visit to New York City, where he experienced a similar presentation. In a collaborative effort with fellow Montecito resident Elaine Kendall, Oshinsky has brought the idea to Santa Barbara.

The second of the four staged readings in the series opened with a 10-minute playlet, Mr. Paradise, by Tennessee Williams. Virtually unknown, Mr. Paradise was written in 1938, six years before The Glass Menagerie made Williams famous. Mr. Paradise is a New Orleans poet whose work has faded into obscurity. When a young, idealistic woman discovers his poetry, she becomes enthralled by the “wonder, excitement, and passion” of his verse. She seeks out Paradise, determined to restore him to his just place in society. Her indignation at the “stupid, ignorant, negligent” world, however, is in sharp contrast to Paradise’s own attitude. Caught off guard, he opens the door in a worn-out robe, appearing unshaven and resigned. He simply shrugs at the world that is more interested in guns than the sublime. “I am not ready to be resurrected,” he tells her, and adds, “only death can save my reputation.” Kelly Coyle, as the young woman, did not miss a beat, and Jerry Oshinsky as Paradise was a poised presence on stage, even when just listening silently.

Next up was The White Liars, a one-act by Peter Shaffer (Equus, Amadeus). As the title suggests, the truth is elusive in this play. As enigmatic psychic Madame Sophie, Christina Allison was at once passionate, grand, and vulnerable. Ornately dressed, Sophie keeps her clients spellbound, but her magic proves that all that glitters is not gold. She asserts proudly her gift of divination, only to reminisce with a sigh of “other years, other tears.” When she evoked the memory of her Austrian father playing a clarinet, the theater fell silent, moved by the depth of Allison’s expression. Frank and Tom, the two young Englishmen seeking Sophie’s counsel, grow in complexity as the plot unfolds and then ends in an ironic twist. Brian Harwell (as Frank) and Geren Piltz (as Tom) delivered dynamic performances, and the three actors had a wonderful chemistry.

Rick Mokler is to be commended for his expert direction. Will we see them again, perhaps as fully staged productions? In any event, Victoria Hall, with its rich red décor and excellent acoustics, is a perfect place for these lunchtime theatrical treats.

4•1•1 Theatrical Treats continues on Wednesday, August 2, with The Chameleon, a new play by Elaine Kendall about the real-life Civil War-era statesman Judah P. Benjamin. Lunch is at 12:15 p.m., with plays beginning at 1:30 p.m. For more information, call Bonnie Lewis at 452-2816.

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