Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Park and Lake" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Friends, I love Ten Thousand Things. Seeing a Ten Thousand Things show (in their trademark bare-bones All the Lights On style) never fails to make me happy, and often also moves or inspires or thrills me. Their newest creation Park and Lake, an original piece written by playwright in residence Kira Obolensky and the ensemble, is no exception to that. It's a light-hearted, funny, optimistic fairy tale of a story about a community of people working together to make their lives better. It's as sweet and hopeful as it is ridiculous and silly. Under the co-direction of soon to be retired Artistic Director Michelle Hensley and ensemble member Luverne Seifert, with uniquely comic performances by this wonderful cast, Park and Lake is a delightful place to visit for a few hours. In fact I wish I could move there for an extended stay with these charming oddballs!

The premise of the plot is this: employees of a car wash, very diverse in all respects, work hard all day and live in company-owned housing. Theirs is not a very exciting or glamorous life, but it's all they know. When the owner announces he's selling the car wash to a big chain, they decide to buy it themselves, creating a utopian vision of a business that improves the lives of all its employees and customers, and is a vital part of the community. Who wouldn't want to work at the Park and Lake?

Watching Park and Lake is almost like watching these gifted actors improv. They all created their characters, and they're such specific characters with interesting and quirky details. Including:
  • Eric "Pogi" Sumangil as the industrious immigrant owner and the surfer dude artist Thor,
  • Kimberly Richardson as the troubled but amiable Jack, and the fading movie star Tia Penucci,
  • H. Adam Harris as the intellectual J, and a smooth-talking rich customer,
  • Stephen Cartmell as the very intense Greeken from Herzegovina and a hippie customer,
  • George Keller as the valley girl assistant manager and Thor's mother,
  • Karen Wiese-Thompson as sisters Pony Boy (stay gold!) and Nurse Judy (including one scene with both of them),
  • Thomasina Petra as the aspiring singer Teela and a mysterious new employee,
  • and Luverne Seifert as Dale Selby (get it?), a good-hearted Irishman, his sole character (his other role is as co-director)

at the car wash (photo by Paula Keller)
The storytelling is aided by Theo Langason's funky soundtrack played on various guitars and other
instruments and noise-makers; Trevor Bowen's coveralls that are all the same yet slightly different for each character (sleeves cut off, collar removed, cut apart to make a jacket and pants); and Irve Dell's versatile set pieces and charming metal frame car.

In the playbill, the directors note that they wanted to "create a play that would make us laugh really hard, because we all need to laugh really hard right now. We all wanted the story and the characters to deal with something serious going on in our world right now, but to end up in a hopeful place." Mission accomplished: I laughed (although maybe not really hard), and I definitely felt hopeful about the possibility of creating a community and a better life for all.

Park and Lake continues through March 11 at various locations.