August 1—September 7, 2008
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Troy Dunn, David E. Frank, Cynthia Mance, Alisha Nichols, Mariko Oka, Kenneth Rudnicki
LA Times: Happy this Penny Turns Up
Friday, August 8, 2008
By Philip Brandes
“A bad penny always turns up” is a platitude that packs an unexpected existential punch, at least in the sardonic world of New York playwright Mac Wellman. In Wellman’s Obie Award-winning short play, the titular “Bad Penny” opens a portal to the metaphysical abyss that yawns beneath the banality of a summer’s day in Central Park — and, by extension, beneath a society shaped by clichéd thought.
Staged with an austere pitch to the intellect by Frederíque Michel at Santa Monica’s City Garage, the play’s obsession with poetically fractured logic is sounded in the opening meditations of a recovering mental patient named Kat (Cynthia Mance), who wonders whether even the sky above is simply “a fake image of the true image of the sky.”
Having just found a penny by a nearby fountain, Kat is plagued with superstitious misgivings about bad luck coming to those who touch it: They could suffer the pharaoh’s curse, be eaten by trolls or be taken by the Boatman of Bow Bridge — a latter-day Charon ferrying lost souls across the Central Park pond, in one of Wellman’s sly juxtapositions of classical mythology.
Ducking fate, Kat gives the cursed penny to Ray (Troy Dunn), a toxic waste dump worker from Montana in search of a fix for the flat tire he’s hauling, Sisyphus-like, through the park. Skeptic to the end, Ray ignores Kat’s warning, oblivious to the ominous Boatman gliding up behind them.
Juggling illusions of normality, acquiescence to authority, paranoid conspiracy theories and toxic cheese, Wellman’s witty, abstract use of language is consistently challenging. The presence of other characters does little to bridge the sense of isolation that permeates this monologue-heavy piece. The ensemble delivery is clear and capable, though some of the outlandishly petty bickering cries out for the humorous inflections of New York accents. When the entire ensemble comes together to sing a few verses of “You’re Out of the Woods” from “The Wizard of Oz,” the effect is pure irony — no one gets off the hook here.
Though originally written for a site-specific staging at Central Park’s Bow Bridge, Charles Duncombe’s stylish production design effectively uses projected images and lighting to ease the translation to an enclosed space.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
By Neal Weaver
If you spot a penny lying tails up on the ground, don’t pick it up: It’s a bad penny and may put you in peril of being carted away by the Bad Boatman of Bow Bridge, a troll who lives in Central Park. That seems to be the message of Mac Wellman’s quirky one-act.
One day in Central Park, we encounter Woman One (Cynthia Mance), a daffy lady with a red umbrella and a bad penny, who claims to have been born in the Place of the Solitary Shoe. Also present is Woman Two (Alisha Nichols), who feeds the pigeons and wears red gloves. Man One (Troy Dunn) hails from Big Ugly, Mont., and seeks to change a tire on his possibly mythical Ford Fairlane. And he does not wear red. Man Two (David E. Frank) is a painter–with an easel, a painting of two dressmaker’s dummies, and a red scarf. Man Three (Kenneth Rudnicki) apparently lives in a cardboard box and wears one red sock. The Chorus of Six (Mariko Oka) appears in various guises–including what looks like a wedding gown, with a red heart-shaped cushion suspended around her neck. She rows past from time to time in an imaginary boat.
Woman One gives the bad penny to Man One, and the Bad Boatman carries him off. For what it’s worth, both Woman One and Man One claim to have had dogs named Meathead. All the characters sound off about the things that bug them in modern society and the human condition.
The piece seems both slight and enigmatic. And as to what it all means, it’s anyone’s guess. But director Frederíque Michel gives it an able cast and an elegantly impeccable production, and Charles Duncombe’s handsome set uses projections to suggest the changing seasons.