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Chat Lines: Jennifer Weill and Eugene Markoff star in 'Connections.'

Emotionalism unmoors 'Connections'

By Daedalus Howell

PRODUCING community theater is an arduous and thankless endeavor. The rewards are few for those who shoulder rehearsals, fittings, construction, and critics. Community theater is rife with good intentions, but then, so is the road to hell. The Santa Rosa Players have found a short-cut.

Connections, a collaboration "based on the real-life experiences" of local playwrights Eugene Markoff and Holly Vinson (who also directs) is a two-act pop-psychiatrist's couch tour into the emotional abyss and back. The mileage accrued is supposed to be a measure of personal growth.

A partial list of the personal hells alluded to and presumably overcome in Connections include rape, attempted suicide, sexual identity crisis, death, adultery, divorce, and fixed incomes. All are subjects ripe for theatrical exploration, but hardly fodder for the cozy, sentimental comedy to which Connections aspires.

In the opening sequence, auspiciously titled "Writers: Part One," two playwrights (portrayed by an overachieving Jennifer Weil and actor Markoff's fairly adept impression of playwright Markoff) are in the midst of a telephone discussion. They conspire to create a piece comprised of loosely connected vignettes concerned with love in its many manifestations. The audience is then subjected to a play comprised of loosely connected vignettes tiredly replaying love in its many manifestations.

Throughout, New Age dogma flourishes between Connections' ill-stitched seams. Lines like, "Just let go," "Just trust," and a real sparkler, "I release you, Andrea," are instant antidotes for a host of emotional problems. Each vignette plays like a synopsis of a longer work. Characters are compressed to transparent, two-dimensional forms--as with holograms, any perceived depth is illusion. Emotional typhoons descend from the ether, climax in tears and hollering, and then suddenly dissipate in easy catharsis. It is as though these playlets were culled from a Reader's Digest book of condensed one-acts--the compression is unnatural and trivializes the material.

Connections' multicharacter casting confuses because the actors do little to distinguish one character from another. Jennifer Hirst competently re-enacts popular media conceptions of a woman in labor (complete with demonic demand for painkillers) but maintains the same clamorous ferocity as a post-coital lover, betrayed wife, and profligate actress. Matthew Greene makes a stable foil for many of Hirst's antics, despite a predilection for coy mugging and a tendency to pout. Much of Markoff's acting is wooden enough to imagine him moonlighting as a carved indigenous person hawking five-cent cigars in front of a tobacco shop. However, in a scene titled "The Nag," both Markoff and Weil deliver well-drawn and memorable portrayals of an aged East Coast couple.

Designer Scott Lawyer's set deftly seems to re-create the exterior of a two-story suburban townhouse, which is unfortunate, because the entire play takes place indoors.

Had Markoff and Vinson been more interested in theater than in re-creating themselves, Connections might have stood a chance--rather than being a vehicle for self-revelatory musings and mutual back-slapping.

Connections runs Thursday-Sunday, June 5-8 and 12-15. Lincoln Arts Center, 709 Davis St., Santa Rosa. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5-$12. 544-7827.

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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© 1997 Metrosa, Inc.

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