February 23, 1999
by Ernie and Pat Pinson
Some plays are to be tasted, some chewed, some few to be digested (with apologies to Sir Frances Bacon's "Of Studies"). Academia Nuts, by Gregg Kreutz of "Bottoms Ups!" fame, is in the "to be tasted" category. What Bacon meant, of course, is that some works are written for entertainment, some for perusal, some for deep study. The Joe Jefferson players did all they could to make a light play entertaining.
This play, which depends on its humor to carry an overly simple plot, is a ship that lists somewhat. It has all the earmarks of a situation comedy-- stock characters who don't change (excepting Judith), a single location (the Professor's home), a predictable plot, a small cast (four), predictable music, slapstick comedy, an absence of a redeeming theme that weaves the play together--all these place the play in the purely entertainment category.
Having said that, however, it should be noted that one can not fault the directing, because the added body language, the coached voice inflections, and the stage set enhanced the play. Nor can one fault the acting. With only four characters to carry the whole show--two of whom are strong, persistent, dominate talkers (Tammi and Stewart) and two of whom are relatively passive, placid, peace loving types (Judith and Peter) -- the cast does all it can to make the show succeed. In fact, it goes a bit too far in noise decibel per actor. The screaming, shouting, yelling level (especially for the relatively quiet Judith) comes across as too much overacting. Nor can one fault the exceptionally appropriate and pleasing set. For a small stage, director/designer Tom Gray made an aesthetically, realistic, functional masterpiece (bookcases, statues, lamps, color schemes, placement of props, upper balcony were all well coordinated).
The central focus of the plot is on E. R. Lennix, a would-be poet, and his presumably lost manuscript, which serves to tie the characters together. Tammi wants to meet the professor who is a new inhabitant of the Lennix home. Judith wants to write an article on Lennix's late poetry, Peter the Professor has almost finished a book on the poet's works, and Stewart ever the opportunist wants to make money by finding the hidden manuscript. What they eventually find inside a door panel are ads that Lennix sold instead of poetry, and what each does with that find fits the character of each. Stewart schemes to make money on the hoax, Judith gets her publishing topic, Tammi gets her freedom from jail/lawsuit, the professor gets Tammi.
There is a clever development of opposites in character--Tammi and Stewart the more vocal and active vs. Judith and Peter the quieter and more passive. One would expect them to pair off that way, but such is not the case. Opposites after all do attract, and Tammi ends up with Peter and Judith with the persistent opportunists Stewart. Yet, each character is driven by different motives-- Judith wants fame, Tammi wants to flee the police, Stewart wants to get money, Peter wants to publish. Peter is the catalyst and the most acted upon, while the others aggressively pursue their own agenda.
The devices were especially effective. The toying with doors in hiding, opening and closing; the realism of the wind machine which effectively ran at the right times; the fish; the hot fire place that had no fire; and (best of all) Stewart's rope that almost became a character itself, first as an invasion of the home, then raised across the entire stage, then lowered, then raised on the other end, then as a prop for Stewart to slide on interrupting the budding romance of Peter and Tammi, and finally crawling across the stage seemingly of its own inertia. The audience found itself watching the rope as much as they did the live characters. The striking black outfit of Tammi certainly fit her character, as did the more subdued, scholarly, prim lace and briefcase of Judith. (One notices this more in act one when the play is developing.)
We have only two suggestions: Peter needs to be more aggressively played; he's a bit too weak, too unrespectable for satire to work. Ditto the music sound tract. While it is intended for music to be compatible both thematically and technically with the plot, too much is lost in timing and volume. We caught only a few musical tie-ins with action, and we think this technique needs to become more obvious, especially if the playbill is going to list 16 music pieces for the audience to catch.
The social "message" the play evokes apparently is that Peter and Tammi forsake the material values of life and find something more lasting in each other, while Stewart and Judith are content with just making money off the poet; hence material values are a baser aim; and hence also the double satire in the title--macadamia (make-a-demia) makes nuts of academia.