Entertainment

Invasion: Sharp performances come to midtown

Michael Yavnieli (left) and Jeff LeBeau in “Years to the Day,” part of this year’s Invasion.
Michael Yavnieli (left) and Jeff LeBeau in “Years to the Day,” part of this year’s Invasion.

This year’s edition of the Invasion (producer Bob Paisley’s annual presentation of solo and duet theater performances from various parts of the globe) is consistent with what we’ve seen before under the Invasion banner.

The shows are smart, sharply written and performed with extraordinary precision.

The Wednesday evening performances were delayed until the Kansas City Royals put the final nail in the coffin of the Baltimore Orioles, an event witnessed by a small group of spectators and theater personnel at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.

Somehow the historic nature of the event added weight to the performances that followed, if only as a reminder that each of us tends to dwell at the center of his or her universe, no matter what the forces of history might be up to.

“Years to the Day,” a two-character piece by Allen Barton first produced last year by the Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles, depicts the longing and flashes of white anger inherent in a 25-year friendship between two college chums who don’t know much about each other anymore.

Dan (Michael Yavnieli), a tightly wound ball of vitriol in a dark suit, and Jeff (Jeff LeBeau), a seemingly laid-back dude with a shoulder bag, meet at a coffee shop. They’ve stayed in touch via social media but this is their first face-to-face meeting in four years.

What unfolds throughout the ensuing 80 minutes or so is a series of revelations regarding their marriages, their sexuality, their politics and their health.

This encounter seems to be set at some point in the future. We have a Latino president, a pending choice by the voters on whether to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency and a national sales tax to fund health insurance.

This stuff is woven into the dialogue in passing, but the show is really about whether these guys can sustain a meaningful friendship going forward. Real love exists between them, but whether they can bridge their ever-widening gulf between them is an open question.

The actors are spot-on, delivering honed performances that rise and fall on emotional waves that always feel true.

“Hamlet (the Notes),” conceived and directed by the Paris-based Dan Jemmett and performed by Canadian John Fitzgerald Jay, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on stage in quite some time. The conceit is that we, the audience, are cast in the role of company members in a production of “Hamlet” that has just stumbled through its first five-hour preview following more than 12 weeks of rehearsal. Jay plays the director who, frequently consulting a notebook, dispenses criticism and advice to his actors and tech crew.

Jay is marvelous, performing carefully scripted material and giving it the feel of improvisation. He often addresses his “actors” with one-on-one eye contact, and he frequently feels compelled to act out scenes as he would prefer them to be done.

We learn that this production adheres to the director’s concept of “Theatre of Distortion,” that the production involves enormous puppets, that the man in the control booth is unable to hit his sound and light cues precisely, that there are no hand props and that at one point the company rehearsed in a forest throwing a medicine ball back and forth.

This is satire of the highest order, and Jay’s performance is simply astonishing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Actress/comedian Nuala McKeever of Belfast, Northern Ireland, performs “In the Window” with charm, humor and remarkable skill. In this piece, which McKeever wrote, she plays Margaret, a 49-year-old woman who is on the brink of ending her own life with red wine and a bowl full of pills.

Margaret is in remarkably high spirits for someone preparing to go to the other side. Indeed, we first see her dancing energetically and singing off-key to Frank Sinatra records.

McKeever’s script is rather manipulative, but it suffers a bit from the absence of a plausible explanation of just why Margaret is tired of living. Yes, she seems to lead a lonely existence, and no, she’s never found happiness with a man. Still, she apparently isn’t taking into account any rational alternatives to suicide.

But this is a comedy, so perhaps it’s best not to dwell on questions of realism. The central joke is that she keeps getting interrupted. First, a young intruder comes in through a kitchen window. Next a nosy neighbor blows in. Finally, a handsome middle-aged policeman arrives on the scene.

At times it acquires the antic energy of a slamming-door farce. McKeever plays extended dialogue sequences between these characters, each of whom she captures with impressive clarity. Before all is said and done, Margaret ends up with a family and multiple reasons for living.

These performers are all veterans of the international fringe circuit, which means they’ve performed the material repeatedly for months, if not years. What we get as a result are performances that are polished to a sheen.

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

Onstage

The Invasion concludes on Oct. 17 at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St. Learn more at www.cstkc.com.

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