For the past several weeks, Delray’s Arts Garage has made its initial foray into the theater realm, acquiring the services of none other than Lou Tyrrell, former artistic director at the defunct Florida Stage (For more on this arrangement, check out the March-April issue of Boca Raton). The new venture, titled simply “The Theatre at Arts Garage,” has started slowly, gaining momentum through a series of Tuesday night play readings by accomplished dramatists and professional performers.
The idea was to build an audience of theatergoers in Delray Beach leading up to the Arts Garage’s first full production, of the musical revue “Woody Sez,” opening March 17. Judging by the packed-house turnout last night for a reading of John Guare’s “Lake Hollywood,” the plan worked. A rapt audience filled the candlelit, cabaret-style tables, spilling toward the added seating on the back, to watch six actors read from scripts on lecterns and pantomime their actions.
If you’ve never been to a play reading, it’s an entirely different animal than the traditional theatrical production, and fascinating on another level: the level of the mind. It’s like watching a live radio play, in that our imaginations provide the set design and props (though unlike radio, even the sound effects – and there were copious sound directions in “Lake Hollywood” – need to be imagined).
Without any visual clutter, the experience puts the emphasis fully on the dialogue, and “Lake Hollywood” has plenty of wit. It’s a “stranger comes to town” comedy set in 1940s New Hampshire, where a sprightly orthodox woman has brought her platonic male friend to participate in a family religious ritual. Strange people populate the lakefront property, including the woman’s pregnant sister and her much younger husband and a dotty old uncle with a pipe dream of transforming the placid property into a celebrity retreat – selling oblivion, as he calls it.
“Lake Hollywood” has weirdness, whimsy and quirk meted out in just the right proportions, so that they juxtapose with the play’s naturalism rather than overwhelm it. The A-list cast, including Elizabeth Dimon, Wayne LeGette, Irene Adjan and Kim Ostrenko, was uniformly excellent at bringing life to the words on the page, and the reading featured a particularly energetic performance by Peter Haig as the oblivion-hawking huckster.
After a short intermission, the playwright himself was interviewed onstage by Jan Sjostrom, arts writer for Palm Beach Daily News. The Q&A got off to a rocky start, with Guare answering a couple of questions in meandering, soporific tangents before settling into a compelling groove. It ended up being a stimulating conversation that compared playwriting to bullfighting – with the audience as the bull the writer is trying to tame – and offered up nuggets of insight from Guare, who has been writing plays since he was 11. “Playwriting is never easy,” he said. “It’s always hell. The world doesn’t need any new plays. It doesn’t need any old plays…”
The conversation took surprising turns toward Whitney Houston, Christopher Plummer, Iran, Israel, Mardi Gras and Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” Just another night at the forever boppin’ Arts Garage.
Stay tuned for the Arts Garage’s four-day New Play Festival, which features world-premiere readings from Thursday to Sunday, beginning with “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” at 7:30 p.m. March 1. Tickets are $15 to $20. Call 561/450-6357 or visit artsgarage.org.