The HUMAN VOICE, by Jean Cocteau; directed by Akim Nowak; with Laurel Allen; and HOME FREE, by Lanford Wilson; directed by Dorothy Neumann; with Brian Hemmingsen and Maureen McGinnis; scenery by Robert Shampain.
At d.c. space Tuesdays through Sundays until Dec. 11.
You will not often see two odder players together (or separately, for that matter) than "The Human Voice" and "Home Free," which opened at d.c. space Tuesday.
Jean Cocteau wrote "The Human Voice" when he was a youthful 38 and French avant-grade theater was fresh out of the womb. Cocteau, in fact, had helped bring the avant garde into being, so the Spheres Theatre Company probably chose this play for its historical significance rather than its enduring dramatic strength. It doesn't have much of that -- not, at least, as resusciated by actress Laurel Allen and director Akim Nowak, both of whom have shown an admirable ability to pump life into other plays on other occasions.
"The Human Voice" is a one-character play about a desperate woman's phone conversation with the lover who has just left her. Telephones were, it seems, even less reliable in Paris in 1930 than they are in Washington in 1980. So Cocteau's heroine must contend with many a bad connection and many a crossed wire -- which also describes her state of mind as she faces up to living alone.
This is what is known in the trade as a "virtuoso part," and Allen plays it with extravagance -- chain smoking, twisting, writhing and clinging to her bed for dear life. But the ultimate result is more of an acting exercise and a work of theatrical archeology than a satisfying half-evening in the theater.
Lanford Wilson, the author of "The Hot 1 Baltimore," "Talley's Folly" and "Fifth of July," was in a more absurdist mood back in 1963 when he composed "Home Free." And it, too, has grown up to be a play of mostly academic interest, although Maureen McGinnis and Brian Hemmingsen give vivid performances as a child-woman and child-man who live in a household of make-believe.
Both plays end in death, the one-act playwright's favorite way out of whatever tangle he has ensnared himself in. But neither death grows very plausibly out of the preceding action (as staged here, at any rate). Perhaps that was the link that inspired the producers to join these works into a double bill.