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Can I Hold Your Gerbil Again?: Peggy Stafford's Motel Cherry

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Seeing a great new piece of theatre makes me really happy. Seeing a great new piece of theatre by a female playwright that mixes quirky characters in a realistic motel environment with surreal flights into those characters' minds? Needless to say, I walked out of Motel Cherry with a gigantic smile on my face.

Produced as part of Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks 2012, in collaboration with New Georges, Peggy Stafford's script brings together a group of people staying in "Motel Cherry," owned and operated by Albert (Steven Boyer). From the start we see that there are guests ranging from regulars, like Mrs. Johnson (Linda Marie Larson), to couples on the road like Patty (Monique Vukovic) and John (DJ Mendel), to mysterious strangers like Lynette (Eboni Booth), whose room keeps emanating strange noises. As these characters interact with each other, we learn more about their vulnerabilities as well as their hopes and dreams.

Stafford's clever writing is well-supported by an incredibly talented cast, without a weak link. In addition to those already named, we also have overnight guests Joan (Boo Killebrew) who is clearly running from something, copier salesman Mark (Mike Shapiro), and Revered Joe (Noel Joseph Allain) and wife Linda (Francis Benhamou). For those of you who read my reviews regularly, you might remember Boo Killebrew from The Deepest Play Ever, who was a standout performer then as well as now. But here she finds her match with this group of actors that perform like a solid ensemble.

Part of this energetic dynamic is due to the fact that almost every actor plays multiple parts in each others' dream-like sequences. Of course, this success is also the result of Meghan Finn's excellent direction. Not only does she achieve excellent performances from each actor, but she also utilizes Daniel Zimmerman's set in a creative way. Lighting designer Brian Aldous, Costume Designer Tilly Grimes, and Sound Designer Shane Rettig also have a great deal to do with making the realistic and surrealistic aspects of the play both discrete and independently successful.

This play could not have been better chosen for a collaboration between Clubbed Thumb, a company dedicated to producing provocative new plays by living American writers, and New Georges, which produces new works by venturesome artists (who are women). It's refreshing to see a play that treats both its male and female characters with compassion as they attempt to work through their own sexualities. Here I do not mean sexuality as in partner choice, but rather comfort with what each character desires. These people are all trying to deal with their own conception of themselves as sexual beings who have wants and needs, something which neither glorifies nor vilifies them. They are all simply people.

Motel Cherry is only playing through Saturday, June 30th, so you should go get your tickets right away! If you have any interest in seeing an entertaining show with fantastic performances then you should head down to HERE Arts Center. And if you're lucky, maybe Mrs. Johnson will even let you hold her gerbil.