Turns out that AJ Taudevin, who wrote Chalk Farm with Kieran Hurley, and Julia Taudevin, who appears in the 55-minute play with Thomas Dennis, are the same person. That's another way of saying that the charged feeling expressed by the mother in the one-act at 59E59 Theaters is shared by both author and actor and therefore movingly synergistic.
Maggie (Taudevin) is trying her best to raise son Jamie (Dennis) at the North London Chalk Farm Estates. When they both get caught up in the 2011 riots that spread across many boroughs in the city, including theirs, she's a devoted single mom and he's a typical kid.
Since boys will be boys during exciting, if troubled times, especially if they fall in with friends rougher than they are, they can easily join the mobs rushing a Sainsbury supermarket and participate in the criminal activity. Many of them, like Jamie with his rebellious teenage streak, will disregard parental advice, no matter how basically good a lad he is.
He likely will, if he decides an act of defiance confirms he's past the age where he should be carrying a lunchbox to school. That's what Jamie's been forced to do because, despite his balking, Maggie insists on it.
Hurley and Taudevin tell the Maggie-Jamie story in a stripped down manner and on a stage where 15 busy flat-screens -- three on each of five polls -- are the entire stationary set and a couple of black stools are occasionally carted on and off.
For the most part, Maggie and Jamie address the audience alternately. Though they relate to each other from time, their more frequent isolated speeches serve to underline the separation between them. And that's what Hurley and Taudevin are getting at. At the same time as they take a close look at lower-class struggles -- at one despairing moment Maggie declares that whatever she does, she'll always be poor -- they also shape Chalk Farm as an acknowledgment that parent-child relationships will always be governed by something bigger than that: the pull of outside forces, the tug of history.
It's a hard reality to swallow, and Hurley and Taudevin handle it skillfully in the short time they've allotted themselves.
* * * * *
No matter how much changes over the coming millennia, it's a sure bet that storytelling will endure. The human desire to hear stories indisputably goes back to pre-recorded times and will certainly stretch to times yet to be recorded.
The continuing question about stories is how they're told, and it's raised by the two one-acts -- Sawbones and The Diamond Eater -- at HERE that Carrie Robbins has dramatized somewhat awkwardly after being told them by her late husband RD Robbins. Since he was a physician, it makes sense that both pieces involve health care and are undeniably moving as well as gruesome.
Sawbones is set in 1862 and several years after and recounts how unschooled black Union soldier Jebidiah E. Wall (Gregory Marlow) aids army surgeon Cordell S. Cuttaridge (Wynn Harmon) in a leg amputation of Confederate soldier Elmer Cobb (Thomas Leverton) and subsequently becomes drawn to medicine.
In The Diamond Eater, Dr. Kuttermann, (Timothy Roselle) serving against his wishes in that capacity at a concentration camp in 1945, is ordered by Oberschaarfuhrer Dietz (Tony Naumovski) to carry out an experiment on kidney transplants between a gypsy (Jenn Vath) and Avraham Millstein (Eric Kuttner), a jeweler who's been keeping a 15-diamond cache safe by eating them, passing them through his body and eating them again.
Known as a costume designer (she designed the costumes here), Robbins effectively connects with both plays, although not without overdoing them. In Sawbones, she loses sight for a time of who her focal character is, Jebidiah or Dr. Cuttaridge. The latter takes over the second half of the one-act with lady friend Miz Cora (Erika Rolfsrud), the proprietress of a salon, so that Robbins gives the impression she's got two plays on her mind. The Diamond Eater drawback is less problematic and has to do with an introductory speech that relates tangentially to the plot but could be dropped without major loss.
Tazewell Thompson directs, keeping things straightforward and unflinching, and he sees to it that his cast members do the same.
* * * * *
Ayn Rand definitely has her advocates. Only a few months ago, Austin Shakespeare presented Jeff Britting's stage adaptation of Rand's Anthem at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Now fairly hot on its heels comes Anthem as a musical. At the Lynn Redgrave, it has a book by Gary Morgenstein, music by Jonnie Rockwell and lyrics by Erik Ransom.
Comparisons are well known to be odious, but in many instances they're also irresistible. So here goes. Whereas the Britting's version bordered on being beneath contempt, the latter is several notches above contempt--primarily because it's extremely well-rehearsed by director-choreographer Rachel Klein and co-choreographer Danielle Marie Fusco with cast member Brian Joseph Ferree helping on the Cirque du Soleil rope-dangling effects.
To fill in Rand readers who've forgotten the Anthem ins-and-outs and for Rand non-readers who've assiduously avoided Anthem as well as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and Rand's stentorian plugging for capitalism and libertarianism: In a future totalitarian state, Prometheus (Jason Gotay) spurns appointed spouse-to-be Hera (Remy Zaken) for Queen of the Forest Athena (Ashley Kate Adams) and in the name of individualism foments a war between Athena's forest army and the one overseen by First Citizen Pandora (Jenna Leigh Green) and Second Citizen Tiberius (Randy Jones of Village People fame).
Plenty of money has been poured into this Anthem so that set designer Robert Andrew Kovach (who maybe designed the eye-popping costumes, too?), lighting designer Kryssy Wright and sound designer Sean Hagerty can give the production an expensive and imaginative look. Michael Gayle's five-man band also does its best with the quasi-rock rhythms and beats.
The problem -- no surprise here -- is Morgenstein's inability to make anything more than sophomoric of Rand's tired plot. Rockwell's music is lively enough but undistinguished. Ransom's lyrics are trouble, though. "Mundane" only begins to describe them. The one that stuck out for me is in a love song where the singers declare that with their feelings "taken past rationality/How can I face reality?" It's also a hoot when in the title song, the ensemble merrily agitates while repeating "Our anthem is anarchy," as if they had any idea what anarchy entails.
Two incidentals: 1) Anyone worried about the far future may be comforted to know that people still say "awesome" and that break-dancing persists. 2) If the If/Then producers are looking for an Idina Menzel belting understudy, Green's their ticket.