‘Town Without Syntax’ speaks loud and clear
August 12, 2005
Was thought I German class in as fractured out rolled sentences the play new Brewery at.
But then I caught on as the actors continued to speak in mixed-up syntax at “The Town Without Syntax” at the Donald W. Reynolds Theatre at the Brewery Arts Center, where the new play opened Friday night.
It was an example of original thinking, both by the cast and the playwright, Nick Josten of Carson City. And by the Brewery, in hosting the free presentation, which continues at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Aug. 18-20.
While on the surface this may appear to be a light look at teens out on another hottie, it’s actually a ringing defense of freedom to change and the possible fatal repercussions to change. (It’s a good thing the Homeland Security people aren’t around; they might want to arrest Josten for subversive writing.)
Much of the action takes place in a schoolroom, where “Grammar Nazi” Mrs. Smith (Tina Davis) is trying to enlighten her class on syntax (“the way words are put together to form sentences”). Betty (Erin Keith), a fellow teacher, asks about an upcoming event and Mrs. Smith tells her to do it the same old way (i.e., be conservative).
The class files in with Fred (Christopher Caldwell) the obvious troublemaker as he speaks in muddled syntax. Mrs. Smith jousts with him (We don’t know he is her son at this point, something Josten may want to clear up) and finally sends him to the principal’s office.
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But Fred’s non-syntax is catching and soon all the students, except for Bobby (Jeff Hoadley, son of the sheriff), which needless to say upsets the Grammar Nazi. Soon she calls a school meeting, calling for the arrest of students speaking non-syntax. (OK, so it’s a little over the top.)
It all ends in murder and death, a bloody maintenance of the status quo. This is not a play for children.
But it is a play for anyone who likes to have his or her thinking challenged. It is truly a subversive work. Josten has come up with a very original, nicely written first play. There’s action as well as talk; he knows character comes from action. We can hope he continues to write.
This is a unique departure for the Brewery. It’s a play put on by a group of people on an ad hoc basis – no formal organization. And there’s some real talent there, perhaps most obviously in Tina Davis, who in her first acting role creates an inflexible, authoritarian figure who dominates her every scene. Her way is the only way. Davis is on target, even when she’s not the center of action.
Erin Keith is the foil to Davis, the new kid on the block who doesn’t know or go for the old ways. She mugs, but she’s effective, particularly in her big scene where she questions all that Mrs. Smith stands for.
Caldwell’s Fred is the archtypical rebel, reading Ginsberg’s “Howl.” He’s reluctantly effective as the non-syntax group leader.
Hoadley’s Bobby is a teen trying to conform and he conveys this by body as well as language.
Dave Josten (Nick’s father and a veteran actor) is a step above the illiterate red-neck sheriff he finally becomes. And Jerry Harrington (Mayor Meier) is the placid bureaucrat, slow in speech as his wife (Chelsea Clarke) is a machine-gun mouth. (Their play on words “mayor” is clever.)
Jamie Dunbar (Old Man MacGillicutty) rails against all that is new and defends the old (with and without hearing aid) effectively.
But will all the solid acting by veterans, it’s Davis who grabs your attention, right through the violent ending. Her daughter, Shelby, talked her into trying out, so audiences owe a vote of thanks to Shelby.
Admission is free. See the show to help propel a couple of bright, new talents on their way.
n Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.
See the show
WHAT: “The Town Without Syntax,” by Nick Josten.
WHERE: The Donald W. Reynolds Theatre in the Brewery Arts Center, 449 W. King St.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today and Aug. 18-20
TICKETS: None, the show is free. Call 883-1976.
NOTE: Not suitable for children
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