A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity (friends' bookcase and a head cold) to sit down and read John Irving's Until I Find You -- which should be more popular, given its "everything but bears" score on this grid.
That's what Kim Porter's play Munched is about -- "the what ifs," as the script puts it. One of the reasons people hold on to stuff they might be better off letting go of is that relinquishing hope of resolution is like amputating your heart. Shouldn't you remain vigilant and prepared for the possible perfect storm of explanation, reunion, and forgiveness? Isn't there still a chance that that one thing might be different this time and that one difference will mean everything?
But sometimes carrying the hope can be even more wrenching than letting go. That's just one of the dilemmas faced by Katie and Marybeth Paxton in Munched.
Katie's an adult foster child who's just found some keys to her past, and Marybeth's her mom, who's recently been paroled from a long incarceration that began when police forcibly removed her from Katie's hospital bedside.
Physically, most of the play takes place with Marybeth (Porter) cowering behind the miniblinds of her rental house and Katie (Michelle Kable) sitting with fierce ambivalence in her car parked across the street. Director Duane Daniels and his cast make that tension constantly vivid and crisp in Space 55's current production, the few feet of stage representing an intimidating chasm.
Most of the play is really Katie and Marybeth talking to themselves/the audience, skillfully revealing what we need to know just at the moment we need to know it and no sooner. All the official barriers between the two women, and between each of them and the veiled past, have been removed before the action begins, and what we get to share is the tug-of-war in which they exercise the power to move closer.
David Weiss and Space 55 artistic director Shawna Franks play everybody else who appears in Marybeth and Katie's memories of the distant and recent past. They are terrific. Franks' talent can be considered a given by now, but Weiss is really something here: He transitions from one character to another, at one point, without changing clothes, exiting, or even turning around, but he doesn't lose us for a second.
The design team also shines, including Maci Hosler, who proves that she can dress plain old ordinary people with the same skill she brings to less reality-based epics. In particular, putting Porter in a shlubby combo of icky brown, cheap-looking grodies and knowing she will own the stage in it is a wise and confident tribute to both costumer and performer.
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It's important to note that the show is entertaining and often funny, and it's largely thanks to Porter's subtly life-affirming script and Kable's nuanced depiction of a character who became wisecracking and likable for not entirely felicitous reasons and knows it. Porter's very, very good, too -- you could be forgiven for not even noticing how she wins you over by being completely unafraid to be as blunt and sometimes downright unpleasant as Marybeth must be to have been Katie's mom in the first place, gotten so deeply in trouble, and then survived the consequences.
Munched continues through Saturday, October 22, at Space 55, 636 East Pierce Street. For info and tickets, $20, click here.
While you're downtown, you could do worse than stopping by SideBar, 1514 North Seventh Avenue, to check out "Book of Dork II: The Gospel of Art According to Ian Christiansen", a show of paintings by a fine local actor, artist, cabaret vocalist, activist, and all-round nice guy.