Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Comic Potential in Hoboken

Going to amateur theatre in Hoboken is pretty much like going to professional theatre somewhere else. The level of performance and technical proficiency is outstanding. To find out if I'm right about this, check out the Hudson Theatre Ensemble's production of Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn which will play next weekend.

Needless to say, as an Ayckbourn offering, it's a funny script, but in lesser hands it might have been difficult if not tiresome. Fortunately, Hoboken has the Hudson Theatre Ensemble which provides more than enough talent to make this production sparkle.

We are close enough to New York to have a number of professional-level actors with credentials in off-Broadway and film work, and locals who just love the theatre and attend and participate whenever they have a spare moment. This pays off for Hoboken theatregoers who may want to go to a play even closer to home--say, the corner of Sixth Street and Park. In Comic Potential they'll get a play that will make them laugh out loud more than once.

The play takes place at some indeterminate time in the future, which looks suspiciously like the present but has a few noticeable differences. We're in a television studio where a daytime soap opera is in the process of being taped. The production is decidedly wooden and contrived, even for the genre, and soon we learn it is because the performers are not human beings but robots known as actoids. They have been programmed to speak the lines and walk the walk of characters in soap operas, and when they are done with their work they are tucked away in a warehouse out of sight, to be reprogrammed as needed.

But not this time. One of the actoids has a fault--she laughs out of place. The production staff is to try to correct this technical glitch, but when they break for lunch, a visitor to the set, the nephew of the all-powerful station owner, finds himself chatting with the pretty actoid and the hilarious plot is set in action.

Comic Potential is billed as a "seriously funny comedy," but it is much more than that. It combines satire, farce, love story, and instruction of the worst-case-scenario of the future of television. The plot twists, sight gags, and tender moments require superb timing and the firm hand of a director who knows what she's doing. In Kelley Reeves, as the versatile actoid, the company has an actress who can convey the comedy and semi-pathos of the role with exquisite timing and charm. She can shift gears from a human moment to a recitation of whole chunks of dialogue from a melodramatic situation of her soap opera past. John Heath carries off the role of the smitten innocent most winningly. And the stage is filled with character actors, some, like Brian Hopson, filling multiple roles and stealing scenes with all of them. Frank Magnasco and Gregory Nye, familiar to Hoboken audiences, appear here to great advantage, and there are walk-ons and double-cast actors who have us totally fooled as to their identity (as does Courtney Kochuba).

There is a wealth of talent on the stage, and I feel a little at a loss to pick favorites. No doubt you will have your own. Comic Potential is beautifully directed, and the community owes a debt of gratitude to Diana London and Florence Pape, who keep the ensemble functioning year after year.

If you never thought about going to a play in Hoboken before, this is the time to do it. The show will go on again on Friday April 24 and Saturday April 25 at 8 P.M. at the Hudson School Performance Space. Call (201) 377-7014 for reservations.


Hoboken Kid said...

Great stages of Hoboken...long gone is the stage at the Fabian.

A gem lost in time also, Stevens Forum at 9th and Garden Street, that too destroyed for a parking lot, but all is not lost. Joseph F. Brandt School at 9th and Garden Street still has a large stage, lotsa seating and with balcony seating also. South Pacific once played there.

Mary Lois said...

My great regret is having missed the Fabian! It must have been amazing. Didn't know about the auditorium in Brandt; hope it's still the way you remember it. The one at the Hoboken High School is quite adequate, as long as there are microphones. De Baun Auditorium at Stevens appeals to me greatly. And the little one at Hudson School is just fine for small shows like this one.