Boiler Offers Uneven Triple-Decker

“As humans, where do we find the division between comedy and insanity?” John Macey poses this question in his director’s note for The Boiler Company’s current evening of three one-act plays which explore the issue with mixed results.

Macey founded The Boiler Company in 1998, and since then the group has boldly tackled modern plays by the likes of Sam Shepard and Harold Pinter. The young company, which is composed mostly of students and recent graduates of Clark University, seems on the verge of coming into its own. While growing pains are sometimes evident and company members can seem unsure of themselves, in its best moments, the evening of one act plays seethes with the group’s experimental energy.

The program kicks off with the world premiere of Rick Winterson’s Two Ex-Smokers. Like the other two plays of the evening, it features only two characters—in this case, nameless ex-smokers played by John Pattavina and Georgia Rushing. As the two banter about the pros and cons of quitting smoking, Rushing’s ex-smoker periodically delivers monologues revealing that quitting may be neither as easy nor as rewarding as the two ex-smokers outwardly claim.

Unfortunately, while Rushing’s character rants to the audience about how nicotine withdrawal makes her feel like Atilla the Hun, her performance lacks the psychotic intensity needed to make the over-the-top scene work.

Pattivina also has trouble convincing in his more emotional moments. The one time he breaks down enough to indicate the pain behind his bravado, he lacks the physical presence and confidence of character that the scene demands.


In fact, both actors seem anxious to get their lines said and over with—and they can’t really be blamed. The script gives them little with which to work.

The most redeeming aspect of Two Ex-Smokers is Michael Lagrotteria’s lighting design. Lagrotteria uses the limited space and equipment of the Leland Center to effectively distinguish dialogue from soliloquy. As the ex-smokers turn to the audience to show their true colors, they are bathed in haunting red light. Yet tech work cannot supply the substance that the script lacks. If there is deep emotional torment in ceasing tobacco use, it is not found here.

If audience members do not disappear during Two Ex-Smokers, they are rewarded with theater which steadily increases in its quality. The next show, Ludlow Fair by Lanford Wilson, follows an evening in the life of Rachel (Elizabeth Marie Hanson), a twenty-something with a history of bad relationships. The evening in question finds Rachel, fearing she is going crazy and chatting with her roommate and confidant, Agnes (Rushing).

Nothing really happens in Ludlow Fair; indeed, the point of the play is that, as Agnes points out, nothing is different after all the talk is done. The play is beautiful, though—not because the audience is witness to an epic drama, but rather because, thanks to honest performances from Hanson and Rushing, every moment feels genuine. Hanson hits all the right notes with her nervous restlessness, and, though Rushing’s deadpan delivery fell flat in Two Ex-Smokers, here it is the perfect complement to her co-star.

Lagroterria lends the production an inviting set-design which helps highlight an involving exchange between to people that possesses the satisfying ring of truth.

The final play of the evening is Home Free!, also by Wilson. All the neuroses of the previous two plays are combined, and then some, in this tale of a brother and sister living incestuously in an apartment shared with their imaginary friends. Lawrence (Richard John Roode) is mortally afraid of going outside the apartment and Joanna (Kelly Spinger) was born with a heart defect and is now pregnant with her brother’s child.

Home Free! takes harrowing leaps from childish play to deadly seriousness, and the actors are up to the challenge. The audience finds itself appalled, amused and saddened all at once. Spinger’s Joanna is perfect; though she interacts with Lawrence in his restricted, absurd world, she makes it clear that she is in charge and has maintained at least a tentative grip on reality.

Roode’s Lawrence is less developed and seems a bit too aware of the situation. The childlike innocence he builds up during the opening scene, in which he instructs the imaginary Edna and Claypone in astronomy, is broken every time he lets fly with a grown-up “Eh?”

Still, the terror he and Spinger evoke in the climactic scene, in which the games they play finally go too far, is undeniable. And the frequently surreal, constantly gripping play registers as the high point of the evening.

The Boiler Company’s current production is far from a perfect night of theater. The actors aren’t always on the same page, and the material and the staging aren’t always as effective as one would like. Nevertheless, after a rocky start, the quality continually increases throughout the evening, and the Wilson pieces are evocative and rewarding. If the company isn’t ready for the big time yet, this project displays its promise and provides a good opportunity to get introduced to an up-and-coming local theater company.