THE ARCTIC CIRCLE (and a recipe for Swedish pancakes)/THE MATADOR

Whimsy and more than a touch of the surreal link an entertaining pair of one-acts now getting their West Coast Premieres at Studio/Stage, both of them penned by members of The Playwright’s Lab @ Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

TAC_3[1] First up is The Arctic Circle (and a recipe for Swedish pancakes), the latest from Samantha Macher, a night-and-day switch from her dramatic shocker War Bride, one of StageSceneLA’s Scenie-winning Best World Premiere Plays Of 2011-2012.

Directed with panache by McKerrin Kelly and narrated with dry humor by Amy Scribner (who never leaves her music stand, the better to “conduct” the proceedings), The Arctic Circle focuses on Swedish-American everywoman Elin (an engaging Katie Apicella) and her quest for love as both teenager and adult.

Teenage Elin suffers through a series of no-account boyfriends, all played by a droll Jude Evans. There’s Noah, who almost gives Elin her first kiss; film buff Preston, who teaches Elin the difference between Ingrid and Ingmar Bergman, and is so attractive, he gives her a rash; John, who’d rather spend time repairing car engines while paying Elin no heed, even when she informs him that “I have not loved you for [insert steadily increasing lengths of time here] now”; and tattooed Colin, who our narrator informs us is “Handsome as the devil. Smart as the devil. He may be the devil, in a good way.”

Adult Elin has but one man in her life, husband Paul (a nicely understated Adam Tomei), who appears to spend more time reading the paper than communicating with a wife he seems not to know a whole lot better now than he did ten years ago.

TAC_1[1] Macher alternates between Elin Past and Ellen Present, though since both tracks move forward linearly, each thread proves easy to follow. Along the way, we also meet Elin’s beautiful, smart, self-righteous vegan college chum Taylor (a delightfully deadpan Claire Awad) and a pair of baristas, one American, one Swedish, both Awad. (In one of The Arctic Circle’s cleverest scenes, Elin finds herself having the identical conversation in Swedish as she did earlier with an American barista and teaching each one the difference between the Bergmans, i.e. a penis.)

Ultimately, what makes The Arctic Circle worth checking out is not the not-so-extraordinary life of its not-so-extraordinary leading lady, but the delightfully whimsical voice of its talented playwright.

Matador_2[1] The humor is considerably broader and the universe considerably more surreal post-intermission in Robert Plowman’s The Matador, the wild and wacky tale of “the greatest bullfighter of his time” Senor Matador (Mark Ostrander, deliciously puffed up); a boxing-trunks-sporting Toro Del Ray (Susanna Young in hilariously butch mode); a tough-talking but seductive Reporter (a luscious Emma Sperka); and a Boy (Kareem Cervantes, adorable and funny).

I have absolutely no idea what The Matador was about, but under Todd Ristau’s lively direction, I laughed and laughed, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was being dazzled by some fancy footwork choreographed by Young, a Tango Argentino performed by Ostrander and Sperka to Jonathan Price’s tuneful melodies. (FYI, Young stepped into the Bull’s hoofs letter perfect with only a few days’ notice.)

Matador_3[1] Both plays look terrific, scenic designer Tifanie McQueen’s pair of abstract sets giving The Arctic Circle an appropriately white-on-white look while The Matador features brilliant splashes of scarlet. Kudos go too to lighting designer Heidi Marie, The Arctic Circle costume designer Kelly, and The Matador costume designer Macher. (The bull’s mask and the reporter’s vintage cape are standouts.)

Heidi Marie is stage manager for The Arctic Circle, as well as board operator and technical director. Ethan Zachery Scott is stage manager for The Matador and board operator.

For those times when a change of pace is just what the doctor ordered, The Arctic Circle (and a recipe for Swedish pancakes) and The Matador fit that bill to a T. Individually, both halves of this Playwright’s Lab double feature sparkle. Together, they make for an invigorating evening of out-of-the-ordinary theater.

Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
August 30, 2013
Photos: Heidi Marie Photography

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