Between Pirandello and the Marx Brothers the gap is more imagined than real. With prankish originality, Bruce Jones pulls the Italian's and the Americans' edges of unreality amusingly together in "Round Trip Ticket," which yesterday ended the American College Theater Festival with two performances by Mankato (Minn.) State University at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.
It's a pity this came on the last day for word-of-mouth would have rewarded this entry of the ACTF Play-writing Program.
In a simple but apt carnival-like set by Robert M. Cohn, Jones tells three different stories simultaneoulsy. An actor and actress are trying out for movie roles. A spy story involves the hard-bitten types of thousands of TV melodramas. A bank heist is planned. When all the plots rub out the actors, what is left for the assorted egos and [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
Each episode lasts a minute or so, with the two major characters, played by Terri Subialka and Terrence L. Kiel, leaping instantaneously into their six different roles. Puns, boastingly labored, abound. Famed lines of old movies pop out. Jones is clearly a young writer we'll be hearing more from.
As his own director, Jones was fortunate in his cast of eight. Subialka is clever, Kiel is an adroit as he is handsome, a rare combination, and Becky Welty has whacky fun with a Superwoman. This could be a very popular play with the colleges, where the allusions probably would be swiftly, happily caught.
The final week's more familiar plays were Oliver Hailey's "Who's Happy Now," by Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Tex., and Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
Humoriess people never fail to remark on the humor in Beckett stuch as the pedagogical are impressed by his profundity. Tackling this highly regarded voice of futility, director Paul Antonie Distler achieved a production suggesting limitless space, timeless repetition and a kind of colorful grotesquerie, not usually pin pointed in "Godot" productions. Instead of stark neutral, Randolph W. Ward created a multi-colored setting suggesting Earth floating in space.
The Virginians' vocal skills were about the best of the eight festival companies, words projected well without conspicuous effort. The baggy pants jokes undoubtedly take the genius of a Bert Lahr or Bobby Clark to seem truly funny, but on Saturday afternoon Act II played very well after a stiff start in Act I. Theater is taken well and seriously in Blacksburg.
The Texans' Hailey play heightened this observer's hope that by next spring's tenth festival, the more intimate theater projected for the Kennedy Center's roof terrace will be its setting. DOn Henschel's design of a Texas bar suggested that Richard Sodders' production was staged for a smaller, less formal theater, as were most of the offerings in the two-week series.
Hailey's device of his play's hero speaking to his "mother" in the audience is a hard challenge in the large auditorium (though it seats only 1,104). Glen Veteto's assurance with the narrator-hero, especially in the age brackets of 6 and 16, was firmly conceived. The two women who were his father's intimates, Helen Tasker and Tammy Johnson, found refinement for the wife and aplomb for the waitress. David Dudley located the odd charm of their hearty, egotistical male.