Common Wealth Endeavors is a relatively new theatre company in the Triangle whose mission it is to bring English speaking plays from outside of the US to the American stage. Right now, it’s currently treating viewers to two funny and meaningful short plays, performed back to back. These plays are Jess Sayer’s witty and intriguing “Elevator” and Mike Bartlett’s hilarious “Contractions,” both directed by Gregor McElvogue.
“Elevator,” the longer of the two pieces, is up first and it features three women: Bridget (Susannah Hough), Harper (Mary Guthrie), and Samantha (Amanda Hahn), all trapped in an elevator. The “elevator” consists of a large, black square on the floor, and the fact that the actors never move themselves or any of their miniscule props outside of this box serves to make the show all the more claustrophobic and intimate.
Hahn does a great job of bringing plucky, dramatic Sam, a young woman with a lot of secrets and a lot of anger toward her mother- Bridget- to life. The mom and daughter duo, along with Sam’s lifelong best friend, Harper, engage in quick and witty dialogue that reveals much about the characters in a short space of time.
Excellent lighting and special effects, which include the standard rumblings and beepings of an elevator, serve to amp up the already-intense tension of this piece. The three female actors share a natural energy and chemistry that helps to draw viewers into their taut tale, and the tightly written dialogue further serves to increase the intensity. The women share secrets and stories that reveal much about human nature, but unfortunately, to reveal too much of what they share would ruin the suspense of this startling and moving piece.
After “Elevator,” which ends on a somewhat unsatisfying note, but one that makes it even more of a think-piece, comes Bartlett’s engaging, funny “Contractions.” The black box of that made up the elevator is covered with a rug, and a simple desk and two chairs are added in.
These will house The Manager (J. Evarts) and Emma (Laurel Ullman). The play relies purely on the strength of its dialogue, which fortunately, is incredibly witty. The Manager undergoes a series of meetings with Emma, regarding business protocol and how each and every one of Emma’s actions affect the company. Evarts, with her short blonde hair and stark expression is absolutely perfect as the icy Manager. She appears ethereal onstage, which is exactly the look one wants for this very non-human, non-feeling corporate drone…though later on in the script the character (almost) appears to be more than that.
Likewise, Ullman is endearing and believable in her role as poor Emma. She deftly handles the many changes the character goes through, revealing worlds of thoughts and emotions through her facial expressions and body language. The play is bitterly and darkly funny and causes one to ponder on issues of the business world and how adherence to “black and white” rules can really harm the individual.
Both plays are, as director McElvogue describes them, “quirky slices of life,” and they are both brilliant, fun, and entirely unique. Anyone who wants something a little different but refreshingly so should brave the cold weather to see these two thoroughly enjoyable presentations, onstage now at Common Ground Theatre.
Common Wealth Endeavors presents “ELEVATOR” AND “CONTRACTIONS” at 8 p.m. Feb. 26-28, 3 p.m. March 1, and 8 p.m. March 5-7 at at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-410-8631, email@example.com, or https://www.artful.ly/fromcommonwealth/store/events/979.
“Elevator” (one-act play): http://www.playmarket.org.nz/node/4642 (Playmarket Agency page).
Jess Sayer (New Zealand playwright): http://www.playmarket.org.nz/playwrights/jess-sayer (Playmarket Agency bio), http://johnsonlaird.com/our-actors/Jess_Sayer (Johnson & Laird Management bio), https://www.facebook.com/jess.sayer.9 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/jesssayer (Twitter page).
“Contractions” (2008 one-act play): http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/contractions-9781408110027/ (Bloomsbury Publishing).
Mike Bartlett (U.K. playwright): http://www.theagency.co.uk/clients/clientdisplay.html?viewListing=NDA2 (The Agency bio), https://www.facebook.com/mike.bartlett.writer (Facebook Page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Bartlett_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).
Gregor McElvogue (Raleigh, NC director): http://www.gregormcelvogue.com/Welcome.html (official website), https://www.facebook.com/gregor.mcelvogue (Facebook Page), and https://twitter.com/erinford (Twitter page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.