By Thompson M. Eskew
The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” opened Saturday, bringing director Mike Donahue’s interpretation of Mary Lynn Dobson’s 2009 play to the stage with elements of maturity and irreverent humor.
“I would call it a farce,” Donahue said. “It is a doorslamming-farce-type comedy because it is heightened. During the rehearsal period, we worked on the genuineness of the relationships between characters.”
The play is set in the present day over the span of several months, following the misadventures of 10 crew members of a local theater, offering a metacommentary on the process of producing a play. From the stagehands to the actors and directors, each character navigates through their personal and professional drama behind the scenes in a packed parking lot during the six plays of their current season.
LTA’s adaptation of the play also allows each character their own time in the spotlight, first introducing them as seemingly one-dimensional characters before transforming them into multifaceted individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses thanks to the skill of the actors.
John Paul Odle, who grew up in Old Town, delivers a grounded depiction of Mike, a crew member who is offered a promotion that promises to be full of stress and responsibility. Throughout the play’s six scenes, the audience begins to understand not only the difficulties that Mike goes through, but also those of his predecessor, of whom the audience only catches small glimpses.
The position Mike is thrust into also feeds into the relationships he maintains between his cast and fellow crew members, who are collectively depicted as a dysfunctional “found family” bonded through the Neighborhood Actors Summerfun Repertory Theatre.
Another character who stands out is the 15-year-old child star Robyn, personified by Naomi Bertha in a lightheartedly comedic portrayal of innocence amongst a crew of jaded adults. The naiveté Bertha brings to the character often boldens the mature humor in an ironic fashion which leaves the audience howling.
But nothing innocent can be turned jaded or indecent without the work of an outside force, and Ian Wade’s portrayal of the overly ambitious Eric is just that. The anger and manipulative personality that Wade brings to the stage has the audience equally disgusted by his actions and perplexed by his motivation to bring controversiality to every play they produce – often resulting in him being the butt of the joke.
The remaining cast have their own presence and comedic effect on the audience as well. Anna Brodnax’s portrayal as the stardom-desiring Meredith perfectly counteracts the actions of Eleanore Tapscott’s Harriet, a humble housewife who appears to act in the theater as a means of enjoyment rather than climbing the ladder to fame. Kirk Lambert’s role as Jeff, the theater’s first director, brings an apt mix of overt positivity and humor to the chaos of the behind-the-scenes setting.
Joe Neff perfectly captures the “annoying one” that every group has in his portrayal of Daniel. Overly energetic to the point where almost every character expresses their desire to kill him, Neff’s constant movement on stage proves to be equally annoying to the other characters as it is impressive to the audience.
No play could run without its stage crew, costume designer or tech. The characters of Jeannie (Teresa Preston), Scott (Patrick Gallagher) and Vondo (Paul Donahoe) fill these roles perfectly for the play’s fictional setting. The hippie Vondo offers the audience a textbook example of not judging a book by its cover in his heartfelt portrayal.
“Vondo is the turd in the punchbowl, but he’s a dear person. Through this whole thing, through his drugs and his drink and everything else he is a good person underneath,” Genie Baskir, one of the producers, said.
The set pieces and design further bring the narrative to life by immersing the audience into the play itself.With a faux brick wall and doors in the background, a large television hangs overhead displaying the current play of each scene.
With a fair balance of character-driven drama and comedy through bawdy language, the play has its audience intrigued by the machinations of characters who they would see as noble or right while still wanting to understand their motivations. The comedic timing of
“Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” is laid bare through the various bits sprinkled in through the first few acts, which each receive their own payoff at the proper moment and leave the audience laughing. “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” runs until September 30. For tickets or more information, call 703-683-0496 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to a COVID case within the production, the performances through Sunday have been canceled. The show is expected to resume September 20.
Written by Mary Lynn Dobson. Produced by Genie Baskir and Monika Stumpo. Directed by Mike Donahue.