Sunday at KC Fringe: A new play from a local writer and a polished show from Britain

07/21/2014 12:31 AM

07/21/2014 12:31 AM

Vicki Vodrey’s “A Hard Day’s Night,” her 90-minute dramedy in this year’s KC Fringe, enjoys the benefit of a capable director and a strong cast. The play itself is a hit-and-miss affair that morphs from high-pitched comedy to relationship drama, almost as if Vodrey couldn’t decide what kind of play she was writing.

Director Taylor St. John has put together a group of talented actors who do a lot to gloss over some of Vodrey’s awkward shifts in tone. On the other hand, in some extended sequences Vodrey gives them a lot to work with and the comic moments are frequently effective.

The play, which is being staged at Just Off Broadway, invites us n the erratic world of the wacky Kelly family, a dysfunctional bunch in which everyone seems to be quirky with a capital “Q.”

Our narrator is 17-year-old Kelly (yes, her name is Kelly Kelly), who feels like a misfit in a family of misfits. Played by the charismatic Melissa Fennewald, Kelly sets the scene and supplies a little family history in a series of monologues.

Kate, her mom, is obsessed with Disney memorabilia but even more obsessed with the remains of her many dead pets, whose ashes are contained in decorative boxes that seem to fill up every room. Jennifer Mays has fun with the role and some of Kate’s antics inspire honest laughs.

Kate’s blue-collar husband, Ken, is quietly tolerant of Kate’s eccentricities up to a point. Played by Bryan Moses, Ken is a character you gradually warm up to.

Kelly, unpopular and dorkish, is jealous of her popular sister Kirby (Mariah Thompson), who dates football players. The humor reaches its absurd peak when Kate invites pal Jenn (Shelley Wyche) and her much younger husband Jason (Chris Roady) over for drinks. The boundary-smashing Jenn is trying to hold on to her sexuality by any means possible, while Jason, a doctoral candidate, seems content to be a perpetual student.

The eccentricities on view seem forced and artificial, which might be OK if Vodrey had written a straight-up comedy. But she strives for poignancy and a degree of redemption for her characters in the second half. You can only get there if your play is rooted in reality.

One of the running gags is Kelly’s decision to communicate only through Beatles lyrics, a witty conceit that lends the play its title. And the Lennon-McCartney-Harrison lyrics also form a bond between Kelly and Jason that may or may not be true love.

Fennewald and Roady are such talented actors that they turn the 30-year-old Jason’s slow seduction of the 17-year-old Kelly into a touching genesis, even though many of us would reasonably see Jason as a creepy user.

All in all, “A Hard Day’s Night” is funny but frustrating. The material provides actors something to work with but the play never gels.

The wide blue yonder

British actor/playwright Nicholas Collett brings a nicely understated piece about a former Royal Air Force pilot in the Battle of Britain to KC Fringe.

In his first appearance at the annual festival, Collett exhibits subtlety, humor, grace and a bit of emotional volatility to “Spitfire Solo,” his one-actor play directed by Gavin Robertson. Collett plays Peter Walker, who in his 80th year finds himself comfortably ensconced at a rest home. As Walker shares his life story, the smartly structured piece moves about in time, from the air battles of World War II to Walker’s new relationship with a granddaughter he was unaware of until she sought him out.

Played with minimal props at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, “Spitfire Solo” is consistent with the best work from British solo performers Kansas City audiences have seen. At once literary and theatrical, this show offers a vivid glimpse into the past as we experience one man’s remarkable journey.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

KC Fringe

KC Fringe runs through July 27 at various venues in midtown, downtown and the Crossroads Arts District. For a complete schedule, go to KCFringe.org.

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