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March 27, 2007

‘Open Road’ not as exhilarating as the real thing

Zachary Palamara, and Michael Judson Pace in “The Open Road Anthology.”: Photo by Harlan Taylor“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”—From “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac    Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” has long captured the minds of youth, regaling them with stories of the open road and cementing the idea that the road leads to freedom. There’s much truth in that slightly dreamy, idealistic mentality.    The open road still enchants with its promise of a fresh beginning, a new life even, so it’s no surprise that playwrights and novelists continue to explore its allure. “The Open Road Anthology,” part of the Humana Fest, examines not only the fascination and thrill but also the inherent danger of setting out on the road.     This anthology — a collection of short plays by Constance Congdon, Kia Corthron, Michael John Garces, Rolin Jones, A. Rey Pamatmat and Kathryn Walat  — doesn’t have the chance to bore the audience because no play is much longer than five minutes. The Actors Theatre Apprentice Company, which comprises the cast, takes pains to entertain as well. These young actors, hungry and just beginning careers, refuse to give less than their all. This is not to say the performances were top-notch, but the energy onstage was plenteous.    Rolin Jones is the big winner of this night with his plays “Ron Bobby Had Too Big a Heart” and “The Mercury and the Magic.” Both are witty and well suited to the exuberant young actors. Eleanor Caudill and Zarina Shea shine as jilted prom belles who’ve been pushed just a little too far in “Ron Bobby,” and Michael Judson makes the most of the show-stealing role of a wildly proud possum in “The Mercury and the Magic.”    Kia Corthron, a repeat Humana playwright, almost scores with “Trade.” Maurine Evans and Angela Sperazza portray two very superficially different women riding the subway in Manhattan. The ring tone bit is one of the funniest things in the entire festival. But instead of letting this play translate the simple yet astounding truth of the universal human connection, Corthron goes for the predictable political punch line.     The plays are interspersed with music written by the trio GrooveLily and played by various members of the cast. Breaking up the show with music keeps the pace quick and further showcases the talents of the cast, although it’s painfully apparent several of them are not so comfortable with song and dance.     I can’t help but refer to the above quote by Kerouac, and wish I could relate it to my experience with this show. I wish I felt as impassioned as I did upon finishing “On the Road.” Yet, I left the theater feeling indifferent. Nothing “burns, burns, burns.”