Review: Strange but Perfect by Street Corner Arts
by Michael Meigs
A message to Garcías: thanks for relocating from Chicago to Austin. Back in 2017, wasn't it?
Carlo Lorenzo appeared in Street Corner Arts' Pocatello in December of that year, and Austin's B. Iden Payne (BiP) committee put him on the list of nominees for best lead actor (walking out of the Hyde Park Theatre that evening, I was convinced that they would). And two years later when he directed The Butcher of Baraboo for the same company with Natalie in a lead role, the production garnered six B. Iden Payne awards in the comedy category, including Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Production, and (for Natalie) Outstanding Lead Actress.
Their 2017 move might have seemed like the mythical "Message to García," the mythologized 1898 pre-Spanish-American-war exploit by a U.S. officer sent to locate the leader of insurgent forces in Cuba, but the outcome for Central Texas has been far more beneficent. All the more so during the COVID desert of theatrical production: Carlo Lorenzo wrote and in July of this year delivered the simple, thoughtful, and deeply felt A Portrait of My Mother streamed by Jarrott Productions (nominated for five BiPs in the digital category and with the award for Lead Performer going to him).
Take that talent, give Carlo Lorenzo Garcia a keyboard, and see what happens when the two Garcias team up in a box set representing a shabby little gramma house far away from the big city (designer uncredited). Two strangers, one a former caretaker squatting there and talking cheerfully to the dead, the other a prodigal grandson who turns up unexpectedly, seeking refuge and seeking home. Carlo Lorenzo the playwright gives us a set-up that could go anywhere from Neil Simon to Sam Shepard and delivers a story about which (not quite a spoiler here) Austin actress Helen Merino commented, "They took something that promises a punch in the face, and they delivered a bit of a hug instead."
Dee, now in possession of the house, cared for Charlie's grandmother. Charlie, struggling to make a living in some big city like Chicago, has long been out of touch, and has no idea that his grandmother passed away months earlier. Charlie turns up masked, looking frazzled, assuming his grandma's simply in the other room. The classic farce technique is impeccably orchestrated by director Andrea Skola, building expectations as characters move from one part of the house to another, never seeing each other until the confrontation occurs. Charlie's worried and indignant; Dee's a friendly, unfazed chatterbox. The unwinding of the recent past is also nicely paced, with potentally explosive revelations slipping past in moments of incredulity, some numbness, and dawning self awareness. ("She died . . . and then you did what? . . . but you can't . . .").
The tin that contained Danish butter cookies and is featured on the poster has its own comic role. The audience is clued in very early on, and all the artists (playwright, actors, and director) tease expectations. Dialogue between these two is clever, contrasted in outlook and accent, and very quickly establishes their very different characters.
The "strange but perfect" tagline marks a deft turning point in the relationship. After that moment, the punch in the face is no longer possible. The playwright doesn't strain our credulity by completely reversing the poles of attraction, either; Dee and Charlie don't collide violently, either at the beginning or at the end. The cautious respect moves toward cautious support, and the awkward hug toward the end leaves two lives in touch with one another but not entangled.
Just to be contrarian, some trivial notes that prove this fine, strange , even heart-warming play is not entirely perfect:
- Social Security checks aren't weekly; they're sent out once a month.
- Charley mispronounces the German drinking salutation "Prosit" -- it doesn't rhyme with "Proust," Marcel, the French author (though granted, you could take this as an indication of Charlie's ineffectual attempt to sound cultured)
- That bottle of Bulleit bourbon? Though it's just been delivered and looks full, the cap is obviously loose.
Is that the best shot I can take? 'Fraid so! But at least it was Bulleit. . . .
COVID hovers like a frustrated ghost both in the story and in the staging. Attendees confirm their vaccination status outside the building and hang around on the sidewalk until five minutes before curtain. Fewer seats are available inside—the Hyde Park Theatre has been reconfigured to eliminate that entire side gallery of seats. But access to its world of imagination has been renewed, and for that we can be heartily glad.
In this vivid, small-scale human comedy Carlo Lorenzo and Natalie Garcia acknowledge our pandemic times and take us away from them. May they continue to exercise that gift of magic.
Everywhere, TX, 78700
Live performances cancelled; streaming January 20, 2022 to February 28.
Streaming admission $10, available HERE or through Street Corner Arts website.