Encore Michigan

New play is ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery,’ inside The Box

Review March 28, 2014 John Quinn

There are plays that are so conceptual that summarizing them risks spoiling the experience for future audiences. Laura Heikkinen’s “Small Hours Serenade” is one of them.

That should surprise no one. Her previous work, “Chiseled,” was included in Wayne State University’s 2013 Louise Heck-Rabi One Act Festival. Of that production the playwright noted, “Everybody who walks out of the theater will have a different idea of the play’s meaning.” “Small Hours Serenade” is a production of Puzzle Piece Theatre and is featured at The Box Theater in Mt Clemens. And indeed, it’s another play that demands personal interpretation.

The story relates the lives of four 20-somethings and how they interweave. Wesley (Eric Niece), a retiring type, falls in love with a stranger in the park. As it turns out, Tara (Mandy Logsdon) is the roommate of Wendy (Linnae Caurdy), who, by coincidence, is dating Westley’s roommate Brent (London Johnson). The romances are worlds apart. Wesley and Tara meet at night in the park for a sensitive, old-fashioned courtship. Brent, a self-centered, aggressive suitor, is all about what happens between the sheets. Each character is on a journey, but their destinations are not yet clear. “Small Hours Serenade” explores the borders between hope and futility, between dreams and reality. On which side of those borders the play is treading rests with the individual.

D.B. Schroeder, producing artistic director of Puzzle Piece Theatre and the play’s director, commented on Heikkinen’s work. “Her play moves down many unexpected pathways as the characters search for meaning beyond their present realities.” To keep those pathways unexpected “Small Hours Serenade” is an intensely minimalist production. As scenic designer, Schroeder employs merely two bright red chairs and a red bench, backed by a red lattice upon which red props are hung. Everything else is the black box of The Box. Our focus is entirely on the characters.

The ensemble creates grounded characters all around, particularly satisfying considering how ambiguously the plot unfolds. They are our anchors when the play itself takes flights of fancy. Audiences will enter the theater to find Wesley aimlessly wandering the playing space – and ask, “What’s that all about?” We eventually get our answer, but “Small Hours Serenade” is not necessarily bound to linear narration.

That’s what makes “Small Hours Serenade” a provocative piece. Character is firmly delineated; place and time are not. This is not an experience for those easily distracted; one must consider every emotional beat if he is to make any sense of the whole.

“Black box” theater is an intimate experience. In a shallow theater like The Box, the play is literally “in your face.” Actors toning down their performances to match the ambiance frequently end up delivering lines in low conversational tones. Considering the dismal acoustics endemic to black box theaters, no matter what size, whole lines can be lost to someone sitting only six feet away.

If you’re going to “Small Hours Serenade,” take a friend. Hashing out its true meaning is good for hours of conversation, so make that a good friend.

Week of 8/21/2017

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