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Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Small Talk (Fringe 2011)

Reviewed by David King

Onstage, there's no such thing as small talk. Which is why when NYC's Talk Productions gives us five completely unrelated short scenes (call them one acts if you will), we immediately get excited about finding out what's really going on behind the water cooler.

Writer Eric Fallen, who has already worked with director Eric Michael Gillett on Fallen's plays THE MONSTER and PERFECT WEATHER at the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival, has already had SMALL TALK published by Samuel French this past winter, and it's his first collection of published short plays. Morphing locations from park benches and libraries to porn sets and family homes, SMALL TALK's scenes all explore that suspicious enemy called 'small talk', and what may or may not be lurking behind it. Using only folding chairs and a few props to make transitions, Gillet's chosen the KISS system (that's "keep it simple, stupid") to focus on Fallen's text and the performances of foursome Henry Farnam, Christopher Halladay, Carter Jackson and Sarah Kate Jackson, all
well cast for these roles.

More comical than venue 8's overbearing air conditioning fan will allow us, SMALL TALK is well set up for an exploration of not only Fallen's text, but the tense, often awkward silence that glues it together. Fallen has a gift for the unspoken text, and Gillett, highly capable of exploring it as director, has not had enough time to squeeze out any (unnecessary) dead air in between lines in rehearsals. As the actors struggle with the musicality and rhythm of each scene, things should improve with more performances this week. The two Jacksons (Carter and Sarah Kate) particularly shine in SMALL TALK, adding the right touches to their multiple roles to breathe truth into both spoken and unspoken text. As an ensemble, however, they're still hanging onto too many pauses between lines.

The dramaturgical arc for a series of unrelated vignettes is crucial if we want to walk away moved by the whole picture. Apart from the Pinteresque exploration of what's really behind the words in SMALL TALK, there's not enough smarts behind the placement of scenes and the flow of the whole production. A creative opening sequence introduces the cast well enough to make one question why no similar thoughts were given to the end of the production, when we're left hanging with an obscure scenario between two brothers. Some tweaking in overall design (original music would pick things up tremendously during half-lit transitions between scenes) would also greatly benefit this series on the whole.

It's always refreshing to see companies keep things simple for the Fringe and allow the audience to use our imaginations. SMALL TALK is written to do just that, and if it pulls up its dramaturgical, staging and design pants (along with more command from its quartet of performers to sing this text), there will be a myriad of possibilities for its future growth.


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