In 2008 Clubbed Thumb, a theater company I had worked with in the past, presented a new play by Jordan Harrison called Amazons and their Men. Although I don’t have a ton of specific memories of the production, I remember being generally impressed with the production (such that I sought out work with that company the following two summers), especially the two actresses who represented half of the cast: Rebecca Wysocki brough shades of Norma Desmond to Nazi propaganda film auteur Leni Riefenstahl and Heidi Shreck made a strong impression as Riefenstahl’s sister and most versatile screen extra. Both women would win Obies that season (though Shreck was honored for a different performance). But regardless of its acclaim, the memory of a “downtown” theater production typically lives on only in production shots and the memories of those who worked on or saw its brief run. So when a friend from the North Coast Men’s Chorus texted me a few weeks with an invite to see a production here in Cleveland I was surprised and excited to have an opportunity to revisit this play.
The viewing experience in Cleveland at Convergence Continuum (or “con-con”) was totally different than that in New York. The off-off-Broadway production, as is typical of shows at that level, was largely an “insider affair”, seen by people who work in, or have a history of supporting, downtown theater. Whereas it seemed very few of the 30-some audiences members (which was capacity for the small venue) here in Cleveland had a strong personal connection to anyone involved or non-traditional theater. Clubbed Thumb’s production was sleek and stylish, if perhaps a touch cold and opaque. Con-con’s staging was less refined, but was clear in its story telling and moving by its conclusion.
Which isn’t to say that the New York production values overshadowed Jordan Harrison’s smart and fascinating script. In fact, it may be that the play sparkled a bit more at con-con because it had a sharpness of focus sometimes lacking in the surrounding production. I remain unsure if the crude design and clunky transitions were intentionally so–both were initially irksome but became strangely effective by the finale, leading me to think it may have been a choice, reflecting the makeshift world of self-produced cinema. If the evening wasn’t 100% successful as a theatrical production, it was an engaging, thoughtful, and entertaining social event without a trace of obligation, collective traits I rarely ascribed to “downtown theater” in NYC.
This was the first production I have seen by Convergence Continuum. Their space–a flexible and intimate room of white-washed brick–is intriguing. Their season is an attractive collection of off-beat plays that include oft-produced titles (The Pillowman, Swimming in Shallows), more obscure works like Amazons…, and a MFA Playwright Festival.