August 7, 2008

‘Give It Up’ Doesn’t Quite Get a Grip

By Phillip Crook, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Aug. 7--RALEIGH -- For the competitor who neither triumphs nor comes in last, there is the gratuitous "participation" ribbon.

That's the ribbon Theatre in the Park deserves for taking a chance on "Give It Up, Turn It Loose," a locally written play that fails to make an impression beyond the four walls of its black-box theater.

For an hour and a half, the show simply subsists without much to hate and even less to love. Written by Raleigh playwright Kim Moore and directed by Adam Twiss, the play is touted as an existential take on learning to let go.

It is a series of seven monologues strung together with elusive connective tissue. Each character is somehow saying goodbye, from a white-trash mother coping with life after her daughter goes to college to a gay wannabe chef bidding farewell to his former roommate.

The program notes say Moore drew the stories from real-life experiences. At times reality is painfully obvious, as the monologues dwell on mundane details.

Frat guy Billy wants to be rid of his stinky, lazy roommate, but the audience is burdened with a discussion of the trivial particulars of his slovenly lifestyle. It doesn't help that Samuel Whisnant as Billy maintains a volume just above shouting as he assaults the audience with expletives.

Three of the seven stories, including Billy's, too vaguely adhere to the "moving on" theme, and the production as a whole might be stronger without them. Fortunately, the four remaining scenes make a stronger impact by comparison.

Once Emily Gardenhire begins her monologue as Reagan, a teen navigating choices about her future, we are drawn into her struggle. From the window of her apartment, she speaks to a bird, which she has named Preston, about her fears in growing up.

But it feels much more like she speaks to each person silently watching than to her feathered friend. Gardenhire's portrayal is earnest and so, too, is the audience's empathy for her.

The other notable performance, although for a very different reason, is Shawn Smith's as Cutier, a former community college teacher imprisoned for a crime we never discover. Smith's Cutier has finesse and a simultaneous animal-like quality.

He is both elegant and chilling, as if he were a hybrid between "Silence of the Lambs' " Hannibal Lector and Gollum from "Lord of the Rings." The specificity of Smith's performance gives the monologue its value, and he regains the points lost by earlier monologues.

Judged as a team, however, "Give It Up, Turn It Loose" makes too pale a mark to deserve special recognition.

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