Monday, October 19, 2009

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Commencement

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Commencement
Under St. Marks
October 16, 2009
Clay McLeod Chapman (writer)

You'd expect a play about graduation to be vernal and forward-looking, but Commencement is a better fit for autumn. The reason is, it involves a school shooting. It's a subject I don't find that compelling, so I credit Clay McLeod Chapman's triptych of monologues with offering something more than the typical Manichean morality of violent perversity in the white suburbs. In fact, Commencement is a cool, brisk ghost story edged with melancholy.

In the middle monologue, Chapman pictures a high school haunted by a “bogeyman mascot”: the late, yet still vital, valedictorian played (as the other two characters are) by Hanna Cheek. This, the best of the three stories, suggests a primal rupture in the community, which will be healed in a private ceremony: the victim's mother has the shooter's mother recite the late valedictorian's unfinished, unrecited speech. It's a mournful moment, a paean that captures what's tragic about violent, too-early death.

Commencement is strong stuff, and moving. But Chapman can be too writerly. His best conceit involves a pen-pal friendship between the future shooter and the class valedictorian in the margins of library books. His strength lies in his prose style, which paints evocative metaphors and pictorial observations. But he comes up short when he tries to create characters. The first and third monologues take the POVs of the mothers of the pen-pal students. But Chapman doesn't quite show us how the attitudes of two mothers must've given birth to their children's personalities.

Fortunately, he's partnered with Hanna Cheek. This very fine local actress bridges the gaps that Chapman's monologues contain. She uses her tone and manner to peel away her characters' wounded psyches and subtextual impulses (which is usually the writer's job in character monologues). Cheek's skill at transformation and her range of emotion would make Commencement worth seeing even if the monologues were duds. This autumn ghost tale is a treat.


The Pumpkin Pie Show: Commencement plays at Under St. Marks (21 St. Marks Place, betw. First Ave. & Avenue A), closing on October 31. Tickets?

Photo credit: Cedar


Michael said...

sorry if this is an inappropriate place for this question, but i couldn't find "contact me" ... how can i send you an announcement of a show you might be interested in? enjoy your writing quite a lot. thanks ...

Hotspur said...

Sure - you can reach me at!