Lean Ensemble Theater, now celebrating its fourth full season on Hilton Head Island, is known for offering brilliant, bold and unexpected theatrical experiences — innovations, dramatic challenges that bring about thought, emotion and laughter. And the good news is that the season opener, “Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love),“ does all of that and more.
This fresh examination of the qualities of love — all kinds of love — invites the audience to meet the 14 diverse and fascinating characters on stage. The characters are portrayed by seven brilliant actors in a clear-eyed, close-up look at real love from all angles — romantic, familial, complicated or delightfully unsophisticated, even sweet.
Filled with questions and answers and good humor, the leitmotif woven throughout this determined work remains fixed on issues of love. It is thoughtful, even lyrical, and teeters on the poignant. “Who Am I This Time?” will charm as you take in the goings and comings of those who periodically populate the stage of the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club during the spring of 1962.
The story line was written — adapted, really — by Aaron Posner from three comedies penned by Kurt Vonnegut: “Long Walk to Forever,” “ Who am I This Time” and “Go Back to Your Precious Wife and Son.” These three plays, artfully blended, were written well before Vonnegut’s later, darker and better known “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Cat’s Cradle.”
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Be sure to look closely at the skill and attentions of Posner, who softens the edges of the connected stories from the early ‘60s.
Director Jay Biggs combined his sensitive appreciation of the authors with his own vision toward presenting this deeply and strongly felt tale of love with care and originality.
All of the play action is set on the stage at The Mask & Wig Club, adjusted to support the storylines as they flow from the “Long Walk to Forever” — through leaves and over bridges — as a young couple reunites with a complication. She is about to be married to someone else.
Then, in “Who Am I This Time?” we meet Harry Nash, a painfully shy hardware shopkeeper and witness what follows when he auditions for a part in the local community theater. Unbelievably, when he takes on his theatrical role, he transforms into the character he is portraying during the run of the show. Watch as he reverts to his timorous, original self when the show closes. When he auditions for another role, he flatly asks, “Who am I this time?”
“Go Back to your Precious Wife and Son” faces the incredible verities of tested marriage and love gone wrong between an ersatz movie star, Gloria, and her latest husband, George.
Nick Newell, as the narrator, sets the stage and the moods of the three intermingled storylines in something of an “Our Town” format. He also shines as Tom, the husband, dad and storm-window specialist, and he deftly handles the variability of his role. His scenes, commiserating with Blake White as George, the beleaguered husband, are hilarious and memorable.
All seven actors, in turn, offer top-drawer performances.
Matt Mundy’s knockout roles as Harry Nash playing Marlon Brando and as “Down East” Roy are jaw dropping, and Angelina Mussro’s steady and knowing Catherine, Helene and Paula are perfect. Amanda Sox‘s Kate resonates. Kerrie Seymour’s over-the-top Gloria — the movie star who brings trouble in several marriages — will keep you laughing. Blake White’s Verne is side-splitting, and Christopher Paul Smith, in the roles of Newt, Doodles and John, brings a sensitive naivety.
If You Go
“Who Am I This Time (& Other Conundrums of Love)“
Who: Lean Ensemble
Where: HHPS Main Street Theatre, 3000 Main St., Hilton Head Island
When: Oct. 18-28
Tickets: $40 evenings and matinees. $15 students/active military. Group rates available.