In its brief history, Theater on the Run, in the old WETA building on South Four Mile Run, has already hosted a number of interesting productions. The latest is the world premiere of a set of two one-act plays by Arlington’s Irish-themed Keegan Theatre.
Both plays are by Erric Lucas, one of the co-founders of Keegan, and Lucas makes one of his plays a finely tuned one-man show.
The set opens with the shorter piece, "Waiting for the Slow Dance," which has the larger cast and also the longer history on Arlington stages. "Waiting" is a work of gentle humor, and has genuine affection for its characters, four teenagers in Ireland.
It was previously performed in "workshop" during last year’s festival of new works, which Keegan put on at the Spectrum in Rosslyn. The half-hour work has been tightened up in both its structure and its humor, and it features three of the four young actors who played it last year.
Taking place outside a high school dance in County Kerry circa 1951, the play presents four youths not only waiting for the "slow dance," but for all the experiences of life.
It is a night where camaraderie is both good and bad for each boy. They need and want the companionship of their pals as support and as a source of approval, but they find the exposure inhibiting and the peer pressure affecting their judgment.
Lucas introduces the four through group dynamics, before allowing each a brief time in the limelight - as Dan Martin’s lighting design switches from the warmth of the group to the cool blue of evening.
The early banter, highlighted by the way the four follow the progress of a passing girl as if with one set of eyes, is a somewhat typical and predictable presentation of group dynamics.
As the play progresses, each of the four emerge as distinct individuals. The quartet includes Des, the leader who’s reluctant to reveal his insecurities, played by Robb Welsh; Tommy, the more mature one who has begun to examine the consequences of his actions, brought to life by Ben Van Dyne; Cor, the least mature of the four, who isn’t at all sure he wants to grow up, but desperately wants to remain part of the group, played by Joe Baker; and Gerry, the geeky teenager who reveals more depth than his stereotype, played by Stephen Lam.
The lengthier piece, "Precious Lam’," is a showcase for Lucas as both author and performer. Billy Tymes, played by Lucas, is a petty thief being released after five years in an English prison.
He lacks education and socially acceptable skills, but he’s an intelligent man who harbors high expectations for himself – or at least he did before being busted for bank robbery. His arrest, capture, trial, conviction, and imprisonment set up the events of the present, as he is released only to come face to face with just how much he has missed over the years.
Lucas addresses the audience directly, explaining how he came to be in the predicament in which he finds himself, a predicament not fully revealed until the end.
As he tells his story, he introduces and then impersonates three individuals instrumental in his life: the robber who lured him into his life of crime, the "general manager" of the prison in which he lived for five years and the prisoner with whom he shared a cell through it all. Each is brought to life by Lucas, assisted only by the shifting lights of Dan Martin that signal changes in location, time or even character.
As with "Waiting," "Precious Lam’" is marked by Lucas’ ability to spot details in the world about which he writes, and to paint verbal pictures of them in vivid language.
Those details may be geographic, physical or quirks of personality, but they all add up to a verbal portrait.
The language deepens the feeling of reality of the onstage sets, which, in these plays, is not much. "Slow Dance" has two benches as a set and "Lam’" just one chair.
But Lucas obviously understands the concept of the mind’s eye – in fact, one of his marvelous turns of phrase is "somewhere in the cataract of my mind’s eye." He captures nuances of feeling as well as details of space or action.
His character recognizes his feeling upon being released from the prison that had been his world for five years and returning to the apartment he had once shared with his wife and infant son as "I didn’t feel I was coming home. More like I was leaving it."