Back in 2011, director/playwright Bryan Moses unveiled a short, sweet play called “This” at the Kansas City Fringe Festival.
It was a meditation on love and fate, premised on a male character named Alex who positions himself on a park bench and, in a mad romantic gesture, proposes to a passing young woman whom he has never met. He even has a ring. He even gets on one knee. And he’s persuasive — he almost convinces her that they don’t really need to know each other for them to experience real love.
Moses kept working on the piece and he has returned with a full-length version and a different cast to this year’s Fringe. “ThisThatThen” is a three-scene, 90-minute play, with the version audiences saw a few years ago constituting the opening episode. Thanks to projections above the stage we see that the scenes are specifically dated. The initial scene encounter place in the summer of 2011.
Jake Walker projects considerable charm as Alex, the young romantic. The appealing Nicole Marie Green as the nonplussed Aimee, who almost falls for Alex’s proposal, brings a nicely detailed, economical performance to the show. Alex is unique — he’s both innocent and seductive. After Aimee turns him down, the heartbroken but stoic Alex leaves the ring on the park bench and goes his way.
In the second scene, which takes place in 2012, the two meet again at the same bench. It turns out that Aimee had reconsidered Alex’s proposal that day and had returned to the bench, only to find him gone. Now Alex has “moved on” in his life, as has Aimee, but they both seem haunted by what could have been.
The final scene takes place in the year 2029 and the now-middleaged Alex and Aimee — played by Scott Cordes and Jennifer Mays — reunite a third time on a chilly November afternoon. They’re brought together by an unlikely event — the Chicago Cubs have won (er, will win) the World Series for the first time since 1908. Alex and Aimee reminisce, compare notes on their troubled lives, and reconnect in a meaningful way.
The play in its current form feels too long — 90 minutes of actors basically sitting side by side on a park bench is about as visually static as it gets — but Mose’s romantic vision works its will on viewers. And he has committed actors to bring it to life.
These performances are remarkable in at least one way — Cordes and Mays are perfectly plausible extrapolations of the much younger characters played by Walker and Green. It’s always nice to see performers all on the same page.
Another talented playwright, Forrest Attaway, returns to the Fringe with “The Grave,” a one-act comedy/drama that has serious philosophical considerations bubbling beneath its harshly comic surface. The premise: A selfish man with lots of money has passed on and has required the presence at his burial of both his ex-wife and his much younger girlfriend. The three-character play is an absorbing, entertaining character study.
Of three strong performances, the best is delivered by Peggy Friesen as Amanda, the understandably embittered ex-wife. Friesen is so emotionally fluid that she can transition from tack-spitting anger to remorse and forgvieness in the bat of an eye and make the changes thoroughly convincing.
As Elizabeth, the girlfriend, Amy Attaway impressively manages a role that requires its own leaps. Elizabeth is big-hearted, sometimes piercingly perceptive and sometimes clueless, and deeply compassionate. Indeed, the arc of the play is embedded in Amanda’s softening attitude toward Elizabeth and the legitimate, if limited, bonding that occurs between them.
Filling out the cast is the excellent Seth Macchi, as Amanda’s adult son, who manages the awkward situation as responsibly as he can. He’s part of a terrific small ensemble that makes the most of the play’s virtues.
The Kansas City Fringe Festival runs through Sunday at venues in the downtown, midtown and Crossroads districts. For a complete schedule go to www.kcfringe.org. “ThisThatThen” will be performed at 9 p.m. July 24, and 3 p.m. July 25. Remaining performances for “The Grave” are 7:30 p.m July 23, 6 p.m. July 24 and 10:30 p.m. July 25. Both shows are at the Living Room, 1818 McGee St.