Sunday, July 28, 2013

On The Line, None Too Fragile Theater

(Dynamite Trio: From left--Mark Mayo as Jimmy, Andrew Narten as Mikey, and Robert Branch as Dev)

If you’d like to experience ensemble acting that’s tighter than Beyonce’s bustier, in service of a show that explores blue-collar friendships under stress, then you absolutely have to see On The Line, now at None Too Fragile Theater.

This script by Joe Roland is a tight-cornering roller coaster ride, as a trio of production line workers, who’ve been pals since the First Grade, try to maneuver themselves in the adult world of callous company bosses, desperate unions, and a strike that ignites a major meltdown.

Set in the mid-1990s, the white and black hats are predictable, with the unseen managers pulling the strings of their hard-working, hard-drinking employees. But thankfully, Roland makes his workers—Dev, Jimmy and Mikey—a conflicted and often outrageously comical bunch, as they each react to offers of management positions from the company in different ways.

But most notably, the performances under the whip-smart direction of Sean Derry are true, real and dazzling. Mark Mayo, Andrew Narten and Robert Branch mesh like a finely tuned Porsche engine, continually finding new gears as the demands of the script increase.

As the strike looms, Mikey decides to accept a job with management and is branded a traitor by Dev, who stands foursquare with the union. Jimmy meanwhile takes a job as the union’s agent. Thus, the battle lines are drawn and these bosom buddies start sniping at each other over shots, beers, and darts in their off hours.

Among many stellar moments, there are definite high points.  When Mayo’s Jimmy and Branch’s Dev watch a football game on TV, weaving their game commentary into Jimmy’s attempts at calming Dev’s rabid union views, the result is a verbal ballet that is hilarious and pungent.

And when Branch smoothly delivers a monologue about his view of management-labor relations and compares it to a cruise ship in mid-catastrophe, the metaphor seems incredibly apt. At the conclusion, as he imagines himself drowning in five feet of water because he no longer has the strength to stand up, the effect is sublime and powerful.

In the second act, Narten is in a suit and tie pushing the company line (“What’s good for the company is good for you.”). But his real feelings are oozing through the cracks in his polished façade.

Director Derry paces this work with vigor and precision. The only small wrinkle is relying a bit too much on the dart playing, which doesn’t allow the actors to bounce off each other as often as they might.

Early in the play, the guys refer to themselves as a miracle alloy, stronger by far than any of the individuals by themselves. And the same can be said for these three actors. It’s a performance so free and yet so well controlled, it’s a privilege to share the same space with them.

On The Line
Through August 24 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1841 Merriman Road (enter through Pub Bricco), Akron, 330-671-4563.

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