Munched Theatre Review - A Must-See Production at the El Centro Theater in Hollywood

"GREAT THEATER LIVES IN LA! YOU JUST HAVE TO LOOK FOR IT!"


Munched runs March 28th thru May 2, 2009, at the El Centro Chaplin Theatre in Hollywood


Kate Paxton ( Samantha Sloyan) didn’t go looking for her family’s deepest darkest secrets when she when rummaging in the annals of her late foster mother’s attic. In fact, her family’s filthiest, loathsome secrets were a matter of infamy within certain segments of both the medical and criminal communities. But when she discovers the small, forgotten box labeled “Save for Katie”, a new and ominous shadow of doubt is cast over her young adult life, takes hold like a persistent chill and won’t release her until she has the answers she always thought she already had.


Andrea Hutchman in "Munched" running at El Centro Theatre Chaplin Stage

Marybeth Paxton ( Andrea Hutchman) has just been released from prison after serving a twenty-five year sentence for a crime she says she didn’t commit. The crime is attempted murder, motivated by a mental illness called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. The most damning circumstantial evidence against Marybeth is the fact that she had lost two daughters under dubious circumstances. And now, she lives in the house across the street from where her daughter Katie grown up and still lives, trying to decide if and how she should reconnect with the daughter she is accused of trying to kill.


So goes the story of Marybeth and Katie Paxton: did Marybeth poison Katie to get money and or attention, or was she “munched” by disgruntled, disapproving hospital workers. Each woman recounts her individual journey, paralleling their experiences, regaling how they saw the world, or thought they saw the world, then and now, when fate seems to have declared that their paths cross again. Marybeth and Katie are supported by a company of two, one man ( Peter Brietmayer) and one woman ( Shirley Jordan), who conveniently morphed into the persons that had peripheral and pivotal effects on their shared past.


(l to r)Peter Brietmayer, Andrea Hutchman and Shirley Jordan in "Munched"

The blank white walled set decorated sporadically with tree branches very successfully connotes the sense that these events are happening in the haze of memory, where only hints of reality prevail and truth is flexible and fluid. The practical elements of the set (a set of car seats, one chair & table and a set of hanging blinds) were stripped to very basic essential, interestingly enough juxtaposed against the almost ridiculous army of props Katie produces during the course of the piece. Likewise the costumes are stripped down to the suggestion for performers and the video element of the production was used as both accents and as centerpiece at exactly the right moment.


Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is the psychological disorder of projecting, or in some cases inflicting illness or injury on someone else for the purpose of attaining attention for oneself. This play drove me to distraction, in more ways than one. I was curious as to whether the Paxton family was fictitiously, but could find nothing on “The Paxton” per say. Nevertheless, it was an intriguing exploration into a mental illness that could easily be misconstrued as cruelty or masochism.


I was preoccupied with whether or not I like Hutchman’s performance. I couldn’t decide. But now I have and I think that the wavering likability of the character is a critical asset to the success of the show. We can’t like the character of Marybeth too much, because we can’t be completely sure of her innocent, lest the audience cease to have a reason to remain engaged in her repetitive, uncompromising insistence of innocence. Her lack of likability is the very quality of her personality that got her convicted. It was a brave choice, a smart nuance and truly well done on the part of actress Andrea Hutchman.


Samantha Sloyan (l) & Shirley Jordan (r) in "Munched".

I was stopped by Samantha Sloyan’s remarkable performance of Katie. Her portrayal of the witty, glib, self-deprecating young woman who slowly unravels the painful truth about her childhood is so damn good. Her protective layers of Trekkie-dom and humor are systematically shaken with each new layer of half-truth and memory she discovers about herself and her mother. Sloyan’s comic timing and utter vulnerability - and moreover the balance between the two within the same performance - were truly one of the best performances I have ever seen. Well Done.


Andrea Hutchman & Samantha Sloyan in "Munched"

  Director Duane Daniels expressed a truly telling and astute note about this production. That “if we’re not careful, with this cast, the production could turn out to be too funny.” I would argue that that is an enviable position to be in, as well as a strength of the show.  Yes, Munched walks the proverbial tightrope of comedy and tragedy, and literally crashes down on either side at various moments in the show. However, there is an honest and balance in the performances of this ensemble that allow the audience to laugh at the absurdity one moment and be gripped by the heartbreak the next. The levity is sorely need for balance and a great compliment to the tragic circumstances of these characters and their predicament.


This is a great production of the Kim Porter’s brilliant and bittersweet Munched. The performances were great. Buzzworks Theater Company has definitely given us the first must-see show of the year. Don’t miss it!


Munched runs Saturday, March 28 through May 30, 2009 @
 


El Centro Theatre Chaplin Stage
804 N. El Centro
Los Angeles, CA  90038
(on El Centro between Santa Monica & Melrose)


Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm


Tickets: $25

Reservations: (323) 960-5771


http://www.buzzworks.org

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