by Michael Meigs
Capital T Theatre does a graceful and unexpected waltz step with Ella Hickson's Precious Little Talent.
Mark Pickell and friends at Capital T have established a strong, edgy style in their stagings, one that fits very well with the karma of their frequent host venue the Hyde Park Theatre. They've presented works by such as Tracy Letts, Sam Shepard, Mickle Maher, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, David Shinn -- stories of trailer trash, down-and-outers, eccentrics and the lonely abandoned, leaving a strong taste in mouth and memory. Austin's artists and young professionals have avidly followed their offerings; nominations and awards from the B. Iden Payne theatre awards have further authenticated their choices, skill and talents. Capital T has a good eye for scripts and a flair in staging them.
Ella Hickson's three-character one-act is a romantic comedy set in a New York that could be urban USA anywhere. She sets Joey (Josephine), a modern English Miss Prim, against Sam, a kinda goofy 19-year-old guy working as a home care companion. In the opening scene the two meet by chance on a rooftop, then without many words exchanged they wind up running through the nighttime streets and riding the subway for hours on end. They say very little to one another. Sam tells us about it first, re-enacting their first odd moments together; Joey later gives us her version. It's sweet, it's momentary exuberance and initially it comes to not much at all.
Though neither knows it then, Sam's employer George is the nexus. Perhaps in his mid-fifties, George is fretful and sharp with Sam, trying to send him away early one day and the next morning telling him to clear out. There could be a touch of an ethical dilemma for Sam here -- if your job is to humor your employer, to keep his household furnished and to generally keep him in touch with the day to day, what happens when he wants to discharge you? Joey Banks as Sam has a simple grin and just doesn't let it bother him.
And then out of the bedroom walks that cute girl from last night.
The background is sketchy here. George was a professor -- presumably a full professor -- for some twenty years somewhere in the United Kingdom but disappeared two years ago. How he got to New York is unknown, perhaps even to him, and there's no mention of how he's paying his bills; perhaps he's from the class of the conveniently idle rich? In the course of a game of Trivial Pursuit there's a hint that he might have been a leading thinker in the study of linguistics (Q: What's the technical term for the smallest unit of meaning in speech?* ).
The dynamics are simple: Josephine is aloof and impatient with Sam, regretting her first-night jet-lagged romp with him; Sam is dutiful, humorous and enchanted with her; they stand on either side of George's secret, which eventually must come out. It does, of course, without elucidating much of the background. Once that's revealed, Hickson's at a bit of a loss about what to do with her characters. She chooses to send them down to Washington via Amtrak to the inauguration of Barack Obama, a wistful indication of hope for new beginnings.
Melissa Drew and Joey Banks are nicely cast as chalk and cheese, respectively. Hickson may try a bit too hard to make her American character a good-hearted simpleton in contrast to Englishwoman's stern reserve, but Banks and Drew manage the to-and-fro with assurance. I look forward to seeing more of each of them.
The accomplished and ubiquitous Joe Penrod plays George with a sense of vague and fussy alarm. I found myself wondering whether that choice was made by Penrod or by director Scott Tipton. They could have achieved some of Capital T's signature "edge" if Penrod had done George as something of a real shit from time to time, then reeled him back as his secret eventually came out.
Precious Little Talent is a charmer and would make a fine "date night." With the regular FronteraFest Long Fringe schedule now out of the way, Capital T is presenting it at 8 p.m. this Wednesday through Saturday at the Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale Road (click for map).
* A: A morpheme
Capital T's interview with director Scott Tipton, February 8
Click to view additional performance images at the Capital T Theatre website
Click to view the program for Precious Little Talent by Capital T Theatre