New prof’s PSU debut is a hit

7 Stories
Through June 9
Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.
Sun. 2 p.m.
Wed. 8 p.m.
(ASL interpreted)
Lincoln Performance Hall
$6-8 at PSU Box Office
Reservations: (503) 725-3347

Morris Panych’s “7 Stories”, directed by Christine Anne Menzies, closes the season for the PSU theater arts department. A surrealist black comedy, “7 Stories” follows a thoroughly modern man as he contemplates suicide from the ledge of a seventh story building. In the midst of his own personal drama, the man is thrust into the lives of the quirky seventh floor apartment dwellers. Specially commissioned masks, by renowned Canadian maskmaker Melody Anderson, are worn by the cast with the exception of the suicidal man, played by Randy Reece.

Reece is hilarious. His facial expressions and body movements are wonderfully played with beautiful timing. In addition, he handles his props well with great comic moments resulting around them.

The remaining cast members are literally and figuratively masked throughout the production. The first to appear are Courtney Weber as Charlotte and Drew Barrios as Rodney. The characters are a delightful foil to the understated character of the man. Weber and Barrios play off each other well and are believable within the scope of the production. Gina Schmid in the role of bubble-headed Jennifer is also completely convincing. She bops in and out of her scenes in her bullet bra and pony tail with enthusiasm and great timing.

The highlight of the neighbors is the character of Lillian. Lia Kohles is very convincing in her physical movements and her speech as she plays the role of the 100-year-old woman. Her comic timing is some of the best in the production. The scenes between Reece and Kohles are delightfully witty. In addition, she seems the most at home in her mask and costume.

Randy Brown, who plays the reluctant bridegroom Marshal, is very funny as well. Perhaps it’s just the result of an effeminate character in a Carnivalesque mask and tight, tight jeans with a cigarette holder. This character is definitely one place where the complete production efforts of directing, costuming, acting, masks, are put together with great comic effect. Christy Herquist (Joan), Raheve Green (Rachel), Elizabeth Young (Nurse Wilson), Travis Gray (Leonard), Peter Schafer (Al), Greg Bigoni (Michael), Ryan Gaughan (Percy) complete the cast of neighbors within the “7 Stories”.

This is Menzies’ first year teaching acting and directing at PSU. Educated in Great Britain and Canada and a graduate of the York Graduate Theatre Program, Menzies has taught at the University of British Columbia, the University of Windsor, and most recently at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.

Sets and lighting by Glenn Gauer add much to the unusual flavor of this production. The seventh story of a downtown building is the setting for most of the action and is done nicely. The costumes by Sandra Zodnick are right on the money for the characters. Particularly noticeable were the costumes of Kohles, Gaughan and Reece.

Anderson, the maskmaker, studied at Camosun College, the Victoria College of Art and Emily Carr College of Art and Design. She has created masks for countless productions. She has received several Jessie Richardson awards for her design work. Her masks are used as teaching tools in acting workshops throughout North America.

The Canadian writer, director and actor Panych has written over a dozen plays, including “7 Stories” in 1991 which won six Jessie Awards, four Dora Mavor Moore Awards and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award.

Paynch’s most produced play to date, “Vigil,” won three Jessie Awards in 1996, including Outstanding Original Play. His most recent works, “Lawrence & Holloman” (1998) and “Earshot” (2001) have been published by Talonbooks, as well as “7 Stories.”

Not only is Panych talented behind the scenes but in the limelight as well. He has appeared in over 50 theater productions and in numerous television and film roles. Noteworthy during his acting career has been his several television appearances on “The X-Files.”

Summer weather and finals may keep some audience members away. The nature of the comedy may not appeal to others. Theater audiences may not be as populated as for the fall production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” which boasted the highest attendance for a production in five years. Those who do, however, choose to make time to attend may find that they leave with a whole new perspective and at least some idea of why the Mona Lisa is smiling.