“World Premiere One-Acts”: Walking Through Fire by Daniel O’Mara and King’s Country by Jeremy Tortora. Final performance 10 p.m. March 29 at Dodds Hall, on the University of New Haven campus, West Haven. www.elmcitytheater.com
Pardon my incredulity–I should be applauding this development wholeheartedly, not pausing a second to scratch my head–but who bothers to start small theater companies these days? Less than 15 years ago, the New Haven area had dozens of community-based theaters. Now, they’re so rare you wonder about the sanity of those who run them. The main reason for the downturn is the growth of other media, especially affordable video forms. But, as this pair of one-acts–written, performed and produced by University of New Haven students, through an extrracurricular company they founded themselves–proves, live theater has charms and disciplines and subtleties and challenges that just aren’t found with film or literature. I know that, you know that, of course–it’s nice to see that the college crowd gets that too.
Not that these two shows don’t betray a filmic consciousness. Daniel O’Mara’s Walking Through Fire, which stars the author as a wisecracking writer who falls in love with a young actress he meets at the engagement party of their mutual friends, proclaims its obvious debt to Annie Hall by actually having the play’s lovestruck leads go see that film. THe other show on the double-bill, King’s Country by Jeremy Tortora, has a Spike Lee Do the Right Thing air to it, down to its sitting-on-a-stoop-in-Brooklyn locale. Both shows traffic in very short scenes with abrupt black-outs, sometimes involving hurried costume and set changes.
Yet this is real theater, with creative problem solving that keeps the action real and intimate. Tortora may invoke Spike Lee, but he also reminds of Dario Fo, fomenting a working class revolution through unexpected bursts of both uproarious comedy and sudden tragedy. The special audio effects don’t attempt to create the mob violence which frame some scenes; instead, screeching voices depict the conflicts and crushing concerns inside the brain of the lead character. Likewise, O’Mara doesn’t stage engagement or wedding parties, he strips away all the noise and excitement and crystallizes the quiet moments in the midst of such events–altercations with bartenders, awkward meetings, conversations about one’s own love life while celebrating another’s.
The Elm City Theater Company is several shows old. I’ve been slow to visit because I’ve fretted that too much attention at the wrong time might strangle a precious project in its infancy. I needn’t have worried. While undoubtedly a student affair, about common concerns of young people, staged with available classmate talents (which nonetheless include some striking and naturalistic talents). The company, founded after its founders took a class in how to found a small theater company, is sound enough that it’s been made an official UNH drama club. Tortora (who graduates soon) and O’Mara (who already has) are leaving the troupe to begin a new company in the New Haven area. More power to them; they know what live theater can do, what it can mean, and why it still exists.Tweet