Sunday, March 10, 2013

Theatre review: "Looking for the Pony" at Off the Wall Productions

Vivid, creative staging and truly admirable performing instill life and vitality into a play about dying of cancer. It’s Looking for the Pony by Andrea Lepcio at Off the Wall Productions in Carnegie.

The script seems most like an extended lecture not so much about cancer itself but rather about how two women deal with it. It lacks any major developments and the two principal characters stay defined more by words than insight. As those women, Daina Michelle Griffith and Karen Baum give them so much truth that what they are interpreting matters less than what they do with it. Moreover, Cameron Knight, a recent addition to the theatre faculty at CMU, brings memorable color and definition to a multiplicity of subsidiary characters and becomes a wonder to watch. Credit director Robyne Parrish for getting her cast to make the best and the most of this script.

Lepcio writes about Oisie and Lauren, who bonded when they were children, so much so that they consider each others sisters. Lauren develops breast cancer. Oisie is struggling to become a writer. The 85 minute story, told by Oisie, concerns the progression of Lauren’s physical deterioration while her spirit never flags. Oisie suffers the most. Therein lies the principal and only major thread: the one with cancer suffers less than does her friend. Clearly Lepcio also wants to make a major point about medical people and the lawyers involved in what’s left of Laurens’s life.  Such people seem like clowns, as do others in Oisie’s struggle with her career. Director Parrish and set designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley capably enhance the idea having a center ring around which and in which most happens, while Knight and Theo Allyn pop in and out of scenes with an amazing array of characters, costumes and props, as if in some kind of circus.

Parrish cast Oisie and Lauren well. Griffith gives her role physical and emotional substance, even while Oisie herself is internally falling apart. On the other hand, Karen Baum, who looks and sounds completely frail, remains psychologically stable and secure. And credit Baum and Parrish for never having Lauren seem too spunky or obvious as if to say Lauren is what she is and doesn’t need to score points.

Knight's performances become an attraction in themselves. He never overplays and  even sometimes adds sincerity where appropriate, even though playwright Lepcio hasn’t suggested that any of such people are admirable. Allyn’s take on her many variations stays closer to obviousness but works fine.  

As for the title of the play, although is suggests a circus, at the outset, Oisie refers to a complex joke about horse manure, optimism and pessimism which is more obscure but quite pointed. Look for it; recognizing it gives added meaning.  

Looking for The Pony continues through March 16th at Off The Wall Productions-25 W. Main Street, Carnegie. Tickets at  or 1-888/ 71-tickets-Or 1-888/ 718 4253 and at Off the Wall: 724/


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