FUNNY DANGEROUS: A Compelling Combination by Jeffrey James Repertory at Walking Fish

by Lisa Panzer

 FUNNY DANGEROUS: TWO ONE-ACT PLAYS, A Jeffrey James Repertory Production includes the two one-act plays, NEIGHBORS by Walt Vail and WITHIN THE SKINS OF SAINTS by Mark Borkowski, both of which manage to intersperse dark humor within grave situations where characters are either “on edge” or at “the edge” for a dramatic one-two punch. At the bottom of this production’s playbill is a statement which reads,  “How we treat each other can last for a very, very long time.”  Under Kenneth McGregor’s direction the portent of these plays is imbued with intensity and a sense of hyper-realism not to be missed.

Mauri Walton, Bernard Glincoski and Trisha Graybill in NEIGHBORS, a one-act by Walt Vail, running at Walkikng Fish Theatre through June 19. (Photo credit Douglas Gorenstein)

In NEIGHBORS by Walt Vail, Gilbert and Blossom Grant’s television has broken and so they take to watching their neighbors, the Millers, through the window, but it turns out to be more than just a reality show. The disturbing events the Grants witness unfolding daily through “the blinds” bring them decide to intervene in person upon the Millers relationship with each other and with their respective relationship to their 6 month old son.  As Blossom states, “We are responsible for each other; We’re neighbors.”

The Miller’s pain and frustation are palpable from the stage from ‘lights up’ as Max Miller (Bernard Glincosky) arrives home late from work to greet his wife Veronica (Trisha Graybill) who has wearily just put their baby boy to bed and the couple commence arguing around their issues.  Add to this combustable situation the abrupt, intrusion of neighbors Gilbert Grant (David Konyk) and Blossom Grant (Mauri Walton) who simply walk in to their home, glibly admit to watching them through the window, and then almost promptly proceed to elucidate and educate the Millers as to the wrongs in their marriage through their binocular eye view.  David Konyk’s and Mauri Walton’s performances are potent; unforgettable. The two couples play very well off of each other, and Trisha Graybill’s reactions as Veronica to the Grants are priceless, particulary as Bernard Glincosky skillfully, as Max, slowly begins to appreciate that there may be truth and some value in the what the Grant’s have seen, and begins to play along.  There are moments of hilarious mayhem, frightening madness, and absolute pin-point beauty in the unwinding and reshuffling of the character’s respective realities and of their feelings which are brought to light through the Miller’s moonlit blinds. 

The second one-act, WITHIN THE SKINS OF SAINTS by Mark Borkowski features a woman referred to as “She” (Victoria Gates) who is readying herself to jump in front of a  train when “He” (Val Uff) interrupts her.  “She” is annoyed by the man, and yet the distraction, if only temporarily, works so that the story can unfold.  “Why is it people finally want to finally talk to you when you want to kill yourself?”, “She” angrily wonders aloud as the audience bursts into sheepish laughter.  Indeed, dare to ask yourself why this is funny, even given this deadly scenario.  Is it because there is truth in it?  The show’s exploration of the pained psyche does not stop there.  

Victoria Gates stars in WITHIN THE SKINS OF SAINTS, one of a pair of one-acts comprising FUNNY DANGEROUS, set to open June 2 at Walking Fish Theatre in Philadelphia PA. (Photo credit Douglas Gorenstein)

Val Uff plays a strong “He” to “She” as his character has his issues as well.  “He” reveals, “I tried to kill myself three times”. [Pause]. “She” then asks him, “It didn’t work?” (ARGHH). “She” attempts to rouse the man into jumping to his death along with her  Her voice is strong, but Uff’s expressions and body language tell us just as loudly what his character thinks about that idea. Very well played. Victoria Gates as “She” poises herself with such grace, beauty and verve on the teetering edge of the Bergen Street subway platform at various points in the show as to appear as a graceful porcelain doll, yet full of venom and will.  Will to die, to go to the peace “She” dreams of, where saints go after they are martyred.  The dichotomy is gorgeous. 

There is a brief intermission between the two shows, in which a minor miracle takes place. The Miller’s delightfully decorated and wall-papered living abode is transformed into a noisy subway station replete with plaster walls, bench and the sense of stains and… stinkiness.  The set designs (Kevin Jordan) and lighting designs (Stan Heleva) are clever and artful, and clearly help to promote the sense of place, both real and in the mind, in the two shows.  The theater itself is an intimate setting, with a small stage that for Funny Dangerous serves as a fishbowl into which the audience can peer to see a different element of life.  Great usage of the stage space; blocking and movement are cleanly executed.  Clearly, much talent and effort was forged into every aspect of this collective production.

Each weekend of the run will showcase a different arrangement of actors for each of the show’s roles, so going more than once is a good option. Dare to go, and if you don’t feel anything after seeing these shows, check your pulse! 

A Jeffrey James Repertory Production
Directed by Kenneth McGregor
and NEIGHBORS by Walt Vail)
June 2 – June 19
The Walking Fish Theater
2509 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125
215-427-WALK (9255)

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