Shots In the Dark Independent Theater Company began in 2007 to provide performance opportunities for actors and technicians ranging from middle school through college. Last night, they presented the world premiere of their original play, "Rough Draft: A Writer's Thought Process" by Jack Peterson. Be forewarned, their location is a bit tricky to find, as the production space used for this show is a poorly marked LutheranChurch in Linden. The audience sits in actual church pews, and while offerings are not collected, the audience is amusingly encouraged to "vote" with dollars placed in their favorite performer's ballot box at the back of the church after the show.
The premise of "Rough Draft: A Writer's Thought Process" is a jaunt through the mind of writer, Opal (played by Candice Oates), as she attempts to create a literary masterpiece. The characters that she originates include a woman named Cynthia (Emily Sellevaag), a mysterious man believed to be an injured veteran named Rupert (Bryan Hartman), and Rupert's talking pet dog, Skippy (Jeff Kemeter). The three characters evolve before the audience's eyes as the writer attempts to create a plot, which unfortunately, never really materializes. The concept demands an odd flow for the show, much like watching rapid-fire brainstorming brought to life in snippets. Bryan Hartman's Rupert provides the most stable persona in the trio, and he produced the only character profile that had any continuity throughout the ever-changing storyline. His character maintained some sincerity and had moments of relatability, a factor much lacking in the rest of the cast. Jeff Kemeter as Skippy tried desperately to breathe some comedic relief into his canine persona with the addition of a speech impediment, an attempt at amusingly resolving an on-stage writer's block that just didn't work. The female lead, Cynthia, played by Emily Sellevaag, was somber, unduly serious, save for a few punctuated moments of sarcasm that were well-played, but her character was largely a vague, ambiguous entity that did little to anchor what there was of the storyline. First-time director, Brittany McPheters did well with the actual staging of the production, and pulled as much energy from an undoubtedly talented cast as the script could muster, which , to her defense, offered very little to work with.
Conceptually, the premise of the play was an intriguing notion that lost in the execution, with characters that never developed enough to be of interest, and rather produced the kind of confusion found when one attempts to translate an unfamiliar foreign language. The most interesting part of the short, 40 minute show occurred when the characters stage a coup and "kill" their writer with insults, effectively stopping their development. They begin to lead the audience to believe that now, in the absence of a writer controlling them, they will create themselves, but then, they sadly find that they simply cease to exist.
I like independent theater companies. I have a great deal of admiration for start-up theater as it creates a grassroots-level camaraderie and energy that is contagious. For many of the same reasons, I appreciate original theater and the venues that allow for new, creative pieces to come to fruition, and applaud Shots in the Dark for its attempt at doing so. However, I choose live theater over the more commonly selected motion picture options because it allows me to connect on a tangible, emotional level, and calls me to engage at a more cerebral level, and this script just didn't allow for either element. Having recently seen CATCO's production of "The Story of My Life", which also delves into the inner-workings of a writer's mind on a much more emotional, compelling level, it's hard to look past the "skimming of the surface" in this production, despite the seemingly restrained talent of its cast. That being said, I like what Shots in the Dark is trying to do enough to want to see more of them. I maintain that this type of forum is exactly what our arts community benefits so much from- fledgling performance companies with no fear of trying something on the sheer merit of growing and learning their craft- and I saw enough glimmers of talent in this production to believe that Shots In the Dark may just be travelling along what could be a quite illuminating journey.
"Rough Draft: A Writer's Thought Process" runs January 17-20 at 7:30pm, at Shots in the Dark Independent Theater Company's 1230 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus, OH. 43224 location. Go to : http://www.shotsinthedarkitc.com/roughdraft.htm for additional information and to purchase advance tickets.