Arts & Events

Theater Review: Remember the Ladies: Poor Players at Unitarian Fellowship and Live Oak Theater

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday September 21, 2011 - 03:08:00 PM

"It's showtime!" declares the young waitress polishing a wine glass. "The restaurant is a theater. The meal's a play. And I'm the actress!" 

Kate Jopson essays the tour de force monologue, "The Waitress Who Read Proust," tart and funny, to open the quartet of plays by playwright (and director) James Keller, Remember the Ladies, last weekend at the Unitarian Fellowship on Cedar--and one performance coming up Tuesday, October 25 at Live Oak Theater for Actors Ensemble of Berkeley's staged reading series. 

That's the genius of Poor Players--with just the actors, the play itself and a minimum of means (mostly footlights and a few props: a table, a few chairs, a glass or two ... hats and scarves for costume changes), Keller's troupe makes real, live theater, almost anywhere for its stage, maybe the more satisfying for the spareness, its "back to basics" approach.  

The sparsity of effects helps create the real effect: by focusing our senses on the main course, we find ourselves more engrossed than with the appetizers. 

The shorter ensemble pieces that follow "The Waitress ... "--"That's My Chair" and "A Lifetime in Madrid"--are, respectively, almost burlesque and touchingly melancholic; the first has adult education classmates Elinor Bell, Martha Luehrman and Anne Hallinan squabbling like kids over who sits where (and more substantial issues), while the second, with the same players, narrated by Kate Jopson, act out a stylized time lapse of the lifetime of three old friends. 

"All At Sea," aptly titled, has Anne Hallinan and Martha Luehrman as an impromtu shipboard comedy team--Mesdames Prendergast and Teasdale, straight from suburban vaudeville--the second a straightlaced belle as straight-lady ingenue, the first as a long-winded, hard drinking comedienne, belting back screwdrivers in a deckchair as she favors her neighbor in the sun with the spiel of her senior adventures ... both play their cards handily, as does the author, drawing in a third, Janice Fuller Leone in a good turn, poking her nose in as the cruise's busybody. 

From a monologue by a worldly wise "entertainment-style" waitress from French Creek, California, to a three-sided glimpse inside the indolent clientele of the luxury racket of cruises--Poor Players serves up a savvy feast of people-watching, something to laugh about, something to wonder over.