Feasting on the varied 'Mere Mortals' menu

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 10:55 p.m.


IF YOU GO "Mere Mortals" WHEN: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 18
WHERE: Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE 2nd Place
TICKETS: $17-$32, students $12 and up (375-4477)

The Hippodrome's quirky season-opener, "Mere Mortals," looks a little like the menu in a Chinese restaurant. It offers six one-act plays written by David Ives, each of which is funny and colorful.
With Lauren Caldwell directing, one follows the other in precise progression. The whole is a feast. And if one doesn't quite suit your palate, be patient. Another is on its way.
Divided into two acts with three one acts each, all with their own distinctive humor or pathos, "Mere Mortals" challenges the imagination consistently.
Six actors take turns moving from play to play. Garrett Bantom, Marcia Brown, Cameron Francis, Bryan Garey, Sara Morsey and Christine Sellers give effortless performances.
All six appear in the first act's opening "Foreplay or: The Art of the Fugue," Ives' very funny round of miniature golf played and replayed among couples.
"Foreplay ..." not only introduces all the actors, it rings with a near musical patter. These rounds of miniature golf unfold amid a rhythmic dialogue that tells tales of seduction turned upside down.
In "Mere Mortals," the one-act that bears the play's title, Bantom as Joe, Francis as Frank and Garey as Charlie sit on a scaffold eating lunch. Fifty stories up, they are construction workers taking a break.
But ... Are they really construction workers? In "Time Flies," Garey and Sellers play a couple of lowly mayflies. It's the most poignant of the plays. Its humor comes from a realization: Flies Horace and May discover life is short, just 24 hours for them, in fact; every minute is precious.
It's meet, mate, procreate and die for the pair in the bittersweet tale of carpe diem. Garey and Sellers manage to make the analogy to humankind with humor and grace.
The second act's plays are more serious. "Captive Audience" again illustrates Ives' talent for a concerted use of language. Bantom and Brown play Rob and Laura (shades of the "Dick Van Dyke Show"), who are seduced by the commercialism of television. Real people are interchanged with TV actors until one becomes the other in an ingenious, if somewhat confusing, play on words and staging.
In "Dr Fritz or: The Forces of Light," Morsey plays a voodoo-style doctor visited by Tom (Francis), a sick tourist somewhere south of the border. The humor in this play is the least accessible, except for its moments of slapstick. Morsey and Francis are funny, working with a quasi-metaphysical theme that's just outside the realm of the ordinary.
In the final one-acter, "Degas, C'est Moi," Garey returns for a one-man tour de force. An ordinary, middle-aged New Yorker wakes up one morning and decides he is artist Edgar Degas.
Garey plays the man with gentle persuasiveness, conjuring up an image of the vital painter walking the streets of New York. To be sure, he's not Degas. But on that day, he transcends his own humble identity to become one with those who have achieved fame.
The theme of identity, in fact, links all these one-act plays.
"Mere Mortals"? Not one of these characters accepts being "mere." Neither does this Hippodrome production, unless it's said to be merely well done.

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