The production design, and not the play, is the thing in Stillwater Theatre Company’s current production of comic playwright Lia Romeo’s convoluted R-rated script for Hungry, playing March 29-31 and April 1st in the Studio Theatre in the basement of Jones Hall at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. The surrealistic setting conjured up by set and lighting designer extraordinaire Shannon Clark, with substantial assistance from video animator Meredith Laxton and video supervisor John Maruca and costume designer Rebecca Bailey, is a marvel in which the unblinking eyes of omnipresent television screens alternately buzz with snow and static and stream live video of the onstage action, as seen from different angles, a la ubiquitous surveillance cameras.
Meredith senior Emily Ahrens is a delight as the angst-ridden, weight-conscious teenager Amy, a not-so-big hot mess who fears that an extra ounce here and there will keep her from making the high-school dance team. Although she’s obsessed with her weight, Amy also craves acceptance by her peers, and she covets the attention of boys who find her beautiful blond Best Friend Forever Bianca (Meredith senior Sabrina Aldridge) irresistible.
Deep down, Bianca is very shallow; and Aldridge plays her as a Material Girl, whom Ahrens’ Amy strives mightily to imitate. Bianca has everything: looks, all the latest clothes, boyfriends, and a coveted spot on the high-school dance team. Amy has a frequently absent dad and a meddlesome Mother (Meredith junior Mahamantra Das), who nags her about her weight and sends her fragile self-esteem plummeting.
It is not until Amy’s perpetual Pity Party is interrupted by the unexpected — and inexplicable — arrival of a Minotaur (strutted and fretted and grunted splendidly by Michael Murray) that Amy finally has something Bianca doesn’t have and can’t buy with her apparently unlimited allowance. But the man-eating mythical beast — half bull, half man — proves to be a mixed blessing for Amy and all those near and dear to her.
The wraparound view of Amy’s predicament — as broadcast on a bevy of flat-screened TVs, strategically located around the stage — promises more than director Chip Rodgers and his game but inexperienced cast can deliver. The introduction of a Minotaur into a typical tale of a troubled teenager, struggling to fit in is a plot device that pays far too few dramatic dividends.
Emily Ahrens’ compelling characterization is the best thing about this latest production of the Stillwater Theatre Company, which is Meredith College’s professional theater-in-residence. Sabrina Aldridge is amusing, but her Valley Girl shtick grows tiresome.
A miscast Mahamantra Das is too young to make Mommie Dearest — and the love-hate relationship that she has with her teenaged daughter Amy — all that it should be; and Michael Murray’s Minotaur is horned and suitably shaggy, but a trifle too tame — definitely not the rampaging bloodthirsty beast that Theseus slew in the labyrinth on Crete. Minotaurs don’t make good pets, because they are apt to eat their owners. It is a lesson that Amy learns too late.
SECOND OPINION: March 28th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/seeking-a-better-script-in-stillwaters-hungry/Content?oid=2945635. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 22nd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/03/the-misfit-teen-of-lia-romeos-hungry-struggles-with-her-weight-boys-and-her-mothers-nagging/.)
The Stillwater Theatre Company presents HUNGRY at 8 p.m. March 29-31 and 3 p.m. April 1 in the Studio Theatre in Jones Hall at Meredith College, 3800 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students and seniors and FREE to the Meredith College community).
The Playwright: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsR/romeo-lia.html (Doollee.com) and http://www.jewcy.com/author/lia_romeo (her blog at Jewcy.com).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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