New Theatre Company Gets Off To Good Start

by Walter Bender

This is the time of year when new theatre companies seems to pop up everywhere. The FringeArts Festival brings a lot of these companies together, but some are born for different reasons and much more long-lasting visions. One such company is the Underbite Theatre Company. Their logo is a dog, their motto is “Plays With A Bite”, and their mission statement states that they are dedicated to promoting and producing new plays by Philadelphia area playwrights. Their initial offering is a play penned by the company’s Artistic Director, Shelli Pentimall Bookler, BIRD IN THE WINDOW.

BIRD is a very dark tale of college student Jen (Bethany McCall) who is a seemingly introverted shy student, involved with her studies, despite the best efforts of her friend and roommate Liz (Hannah Record) and her mother Nora (Stacy Skinner.) As the play progresses, we become aware that it’s more than just an obsession with good grades that motivates Jen, it’s an almost pathological need to stay in her room, and a fear of an unknown horror that makes her change clothing in the closet, and eventually is unable to leave the room even to go to the bathroom. Interspersed with these scenes are monologues by Ray (Daniel J. Tobin) who tells his story of the girl he fell in love with, and their growing love story.

Jen’s behavior begins to alienate her friends and family, alternately angering and worrying them. Jen meets Maxie (Nick Gresh/Aida Snatchewell), dressed in all of her finest, and her carefree attitude seems to lighten Jen’s darkness, allowing Jen to finally explain some of her behavior. All of this explodes when Jen’s fears are realized by Ray (who we learn is actually a stalker) getting into the room and defacing a painting that Maxie did for Jen.

The playwright has a gift for dialogue…the words flow very well, the back-and-forth between characters is very natural. The play itself is also well cast, with McCall looking pale and almost anorexic, and exuding the paralyzing fear of her character. Record is the ultimate party girl, and Skinner the concerned mother. Gresh is wonderful as the carefree (most of the time) Maxie. Tobin gives a chilling portrayal as Ray…even from his first seemingly very innocent monologue, you felt there was something not right, and as the play progresses you see the power of his obsession.

As with many new plays and new playwrights, there was almost too much information in the play…the playwright has a story to tell, and tries to squeeze in all the details. As a result, the play seems to run a bit long. In addition, the style of the piece changed between Act I and Act II…Act I was almost like a TV movie script, with a lot of short scenes separated by blackouts. Act II flowed much easier, with fewer and much longer scenes.

Overall, this was a very good opening production for this new organization. I look forward to seeing more from the company. Congratulations to Underbite Theatre Company, and hurry back with your next production.

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