Give It Up, Turn It Loose!
Theatre in the Park
Through Aug. 10
It's tempting to call Raleigh playwright Kim Moore's Give It Up, Turn It Loose a collection of monologues that connects six characters we see on stage (and others that we don't). But the word "disconnects" seems far more appropriate for a work in which all seven speeches focus on breakups of various kinds.
In an elliptical opening sequence, Veronica, a self-proclaimed fag hag all but choking on her own self-loathing, uses camp Marlene Dietrich lines and the En Vogue song that gives the play its title to break up with Daniel, her best friend without benefits. In an amusing later set, Daniel turns to the Betty Crocker cookbook—in a basement workshop whose power tools have been improbably repurposed to haute cuisine—in an attempt to get over a painfully cute, culinarily gifted and irredeemably straight roommate who's just moved out and gotten married.
Billy, a college jock who uses a PowerPoint presentation to give his best buddy an ultimatum about growing up, turns out to be the guy 17-year-old Regan turns to when her far-too-transient father loses yet another job and says they have to hit the road again. In the midst, a mother's reproach to her small girl at a laundromat turns prophetic in a later speech, and a twisted man behind bars devotes a final conversation with his mother to a brief but caustic critical analysis of the lies they both have lived with.
These scenarios are strong for the most part, and Moore's writing conveys pathos and wit in places. But where playwrights like Neil LaBute have used intersecting soliloquies to radically open up the worlds their characters share, Moore's connections (and disconnections) ultimately seem a lot more tangential. Her characters may know each other to varying degrees, but what they know of each other (and themselves) frequently seems inadequately explored.
In part, this is likely due to the scope of the project in its present form. Seven spiels over an hour and a half guarantees we won't be spending that much quality time with any of the sextet we meet in Give It Up. As a result, though actor Byron Jennings enlivens Daniel's "Hungry," the sequence just seems to cut off as he begins to ponder the significance of his relationship with Veronica. In turn, Veronica's opening section, "Traveling," is long enough to present us with the fact that she must change, but not long enough to get at why she must. Still, any critique of this script must be qualified by the interpretation we saw. Actor Rebecca Blum has impressed us in the past, but here she seems miscast, a difficulty director Adam Twiss appeared unable to resolve by opening night.
Other performances fare better. Emily Gardenhire's reading of Regan's peroration, "Go Home," mixes chatty insouciance with vulnerability as it finesses a script whose brevity leaves too many blanks for the audience to fill in. Debbie Strange's work in two speeches gives us the before and after of blowsy Southern barmaid Sheila, but script and performance both seem to inadequately fund the revelation she has about her daughter. Shawn Smith's gratifyingly chilling portrait of the psychotic Cutler, in "Time's Up," had me making appreciative references to Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Lecter. Though it's easy and tempting to overplay this type of villain, Twiss and Smith walk the razor's edge with yet another character we wanted to see more of.
Four years after its Greensboro premiere and a subsequent Burning Coal staged reading at Irregardless Café, Give It Up, Turn It Loose at this point suggests seven plants that have long outgrown the planter they were originally placed in: Their close proximity in too small a space seems the main thing in the way of their further growth. Though one or two of Moore's monologues might be comfy in their present state, I'd recommend deliberately repotting fewer of them in a frame that gives them room to fully blossom.
E-mail Byron Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.