Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
"Love is in the air" we are told at the beginning of this mash up of various mythological stories that also includes a big nod to Shakespeare. Perovich takes the story of Orpheus and Eurydice throws in a bit of Pyramus and Thisbe and a dash of Aphrodite and comes up with a story of a fierce woman named Ann who was abandoned by her husband many years ago and left to raise their three daughters alone. The overprotective Ann claims she will filet with her large knife any person who attempts to take one of her daughters away from her and over the course of the play, once all of the daughters find love, we see Ann's threat come to fruition.
While Perovich has created nuanced characters as well as a continually shifting plot, the biggest issue I have with the play concerns the mismatched tone and sluggish pace. This fault is due to Perovich's decision to include numerous elements that never quite come together as well as Gerald Thomson's incredibly loose direction that gives a somewhat unfocused and unclear structure to several moments in the piece. The character of Ann is portrayed as deeply fierce and unyielding, and the intensity that Carolyn McBurney brings to the part is perfect, but the weird pace of the play which continually meanders at points, such as when the narrator of the piece slowly wanders in from the concession stand with a bag of Doritos, and the inclusion of jokes, songs and even a drag queen, are vastly at odds with the intensity and determination of Ann and the plight of her daughters. It's like two different plays that never truly connect.
There are several times when the tone works, such as a beautiful scene in the Underworld in the second act when the underlying humor of that dramatic moment is inherent to the characters and their situation. But the majority of the comical lines in the rest of the play aren't that funny and only make the more dramatic moments, which I thought worked incredibly well, stick out. By the time the narrator of the piece, Cliff Williams, appeared in the second act in drag as a salacious character, with an over the top portrayal that literally seemed like it was from another play with no rational meaning as to why the character was portrayed this way, I found myself laughing at the absurdity of this decision and not at the character. I don't think that was the reaction Perovich was going for.
Sure, Shakespeare included over the top, comical supporting characters like Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and his plays often feature characters in drag, but that's usually because they are in disguise. Also, the original staging of Shakespeare's plays featured the all-male casts who had no other option but to also play any female part. But here there is no reason for this decision, which just makes it seem vastly at odds with the rest of the play. That, plus the weird pacing and strange tone shifts make this production of unexpected an unfortunate misfire.
The majority of the cast do well in attempting to navigate their way through the shifting landscape of the piece with Anabel Olguin, Bertha Cortes and Mia Passarella all quite good and simply lovely as Ann's three daughters. Marina Sharpe, Devon Mahon and Jonathan Gradilla all get some nice moments as the three girls' love interests. Cliff Williams has a nice natural delivery as the narrator.
Brelby prides themselves on being the West Valley's new works incubator and Perovich is a Valley playwright who is clearly talented. He creates characters, situations and dialogue that are natural and that warrant attention, but unexpected, while intriguing, is also loose and uneven and loses its way in its delivery and direction.
Also, from his bio, the titles of all of Perovich's plays are all in lower case, though I have no idea why they, or unexpected, are.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of unexpected runs through June 10th, 2017, with performances at 7154 N 58th Drive in Glendale. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781
Director: Gerald Thomson