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Theater review: 'Praising What Is Lost' from Playwrights' Round Table

Playwright David Strauss has a thought-provoking notion in "Praising What Is Lost," the first two-act play produced by Orlando's Playwrights' Round Table: What if we could experience other people's memories as our own? Is having other people's memories better than having no memories? Would having someone else's memories turn you into someone else?

These are intriguing questions, but strangely Strauss waits until late in the game to introduce them. Then, rather than delving into such weighty topics, he quickly wraps things up with a pat ending.

That means much of his play is devoted to a more conventional story of temperamentally different siblings coping with a beloved grandfather's descent into dementia. This leads to repeated scenes in which Marc, the frustrated grandson, visits Samuel, the confused Grandpa — all competently executed but without the zing the meatier issues later bring to the table.

In his writing, Strauss, who also plays Marc, has a nice way with relationships — especially that of Marc and his fiancée, Rachel. The couple seem right together; it's clear why they are attracted to each other and their dialogue reinforces that feeling.

Strauss and Jennifer Rea, who plays Rachel, have a relaxed physical presence with each other, too, which adds verisimilitude to their relationship, and Rea gives Rachel sympathetic shadings that keep her from sounding like a nag or know-it-all.

Marc has complicated relationships with his workaholic sister Beth and his grandfather, in large part because his parents aren't part of his life. Nuances in the writing and the delivery of the lines, under the direction of Laurel Clark, make this clear without being too heavy-handed or emotionally manipulative.

As Beth, Sara Jones works her way up to abrasive but keeps her character human. And as Samuel, Ron Schneider perfectly captures the sudden mood changes of patients with Alzheimer's or related diseases: Jovial, hearty, cracking corny jokes, he grabs your heart — then confused, snappish, frightened, he breaks it.

'Missed Connections'

Preceding "Praising What Is Lost" is a comic mini-play "Missed Connections" by Marj O'Neill-Butler. It's a meet-cute story in which boy meets girl through mistaken identity. O'Neill-Butler has an eye for detail and the 10-minute length is just right for the lightweight material, directed briskly by Avis-Marie Barnes.

Actors Parris Baker, as the brash young man, and Cherise James, as a more reserved blind date, have an easygoing appeal. As she too-obviously adjusts her top, or he proudly proclaims "I can be yogurt-boy!" (trust me on this) — they more than deserve the laughter they inspire.

'Praising What Is Lost'

What: Playwrights' Round Table production of a new drama by David Strauss

Length: 1:30, including intermission (plus "Missed Connections," a 10-minute short play)

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3:30 p.m. Sundays, through April 1

Tickets: $15; $12 students, seniors and military

Call: 407-761-2683

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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