Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Plays From the Alley—Week Two

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 5:20 PM

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Even just as a reading of a work-in-progress, Champagne Breakfast by Boise State student Evan Sesek, the second offering in Alley Repertory Theater's Plays From the Alley new works series, was cut and above other local theater offerings. It paired humor with a serious treatment of the nature of small-town friendship, each scene effectively upping the dramatic tension and except for minor somewhat superficial flaws, stayed engaging from start to finish. This stands as an accomplishment in a finished product, since as the saying goes, "Broadway is full of first acts." But to see such an engaging story still in the developmental phase was a rare treat that hints at even greater things to come, not just from the script, but from its author as well.

The story follows two friends, Jake and Greg, both of whom are in love with the same girl. Jake has been dating her for over a year and wants her to run away with him to Chicago; Greg has been dating her for seven years, and is about to propose.

The story that plays out, about drinking booze for breakfast, about the frustration of a town where everyone knows your name and you will never be able to escape that thing you did in high school, about the kind of friends that do in fact love you as they stab you in the back and about the kinds that never would, about wanting to run away from yourself every bit as much as you do a place is beyond just relatable. It is "the" small-town story. I've seen it a hundred times before and I've even written it a few times myself. But the reason why it's so oft-repeated is because it's so universally true. Jake and Greg have conversations that we've all had a dozen times, about dreaming big and stopping there, about who got out and came back, about that loser tag-along they can't help but love for his steadfast commitment to being a goober. However Sesek accomplishes the holy trinity of playwrighting, making his dialog relatable, believable and fresh all at once. For the most part, the script sings.

Where it falls short on the other hand is two-fold.

Firstly in that one of the great blessings of the script, the nuanced understanding of Boise as a setting, is also it's greatest detractor. While references to the Boise hole, or the Rod Stewart limo guy will play well to a local audience, the small-town story is more universal. And those references ultimately do more to harm the script by limiting its audience than they add to it. Sure, joking about the hole is funny. But the script is already funny and deleting such inside jokes would let more people in on them.

The second flaw is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll put it after the cut in case anyone wants to stay blissfully unaware for the full production of the play at Boise State sometime next year.

Overall, Champagne Breakfast was more than just a good reading by a talented cast. It was the kind of cultural artifact that you want to root for, the local hero you want to see make it in the world at large, so when the rest of the world is all aflutter, you can say you knew about it first.

Still with me? Alright.

The second flaw is the climax. When Jake and Greg finally have it out, Greg's decision to murder Jake feels like a combination of too-muchery. One, in that while there is understandable tension between the characters, it's not enough tension for the audience to consider murder plausible. Two, in that it was easy to see coming in that Greg telegraphed his intentions, lessening the drama of the event. And three, in that it smacks of that old cliche that you kill your main character when you don't know how to end the story. Truthfully, it would have been more interesting for Greg to try to kill Jake, and fail, and for Jake to kill Greg in self-defense. But it would have been just as compelling for them to part ways sans murder.

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