The two plays in the King’s Theatrical Society’s Double Bill may differ in their portrayal of the oppression of the sexes, but they share equally kinetic performances.
Like the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations” that both opens and closes it, the first play Never Swim Alone is simple and sometimes opaque in its wall of details. Featuring John Maize and Philippe Mesly as warring suitors in a competition judged by Laura Gallagher-Doucette, the play centers on their fight to be the more successful man. The relentlessness of Rolando Arqueta’s direction, Maize’s strong lighting design, and the keen self-awareness of the performances gives fluidity and tension to Never Swim Alone as it transitions from the first half’s campy humor to the violence of its climax.
Maize and Mesly smoothly realize their characters, easily transitioning from being mirror images of each other into two distinct characters. Although the short length of the play and an abundance of disconnected details mean the characters’ distinctions aren’t clearly pronounced, Maize and Mesly’s still make their characters understandable and human in the moment.
Gallagher-Doucette is both politely brutal and warm in her role as the mysterious woman central to the male characters’ lives. Her character, and the competition she represents, torments the men; however, she takes her brief opportunities to reveal a character of wrenching innocence so as not to make her plainly villainous.
The second play, The Cagebirds, is distinct from the first. Women are the only characters present and are trapped in a cage where they grow insane – a metaphor for the limitations women have in society. The play subverts its seemingly straightforward premise by presenting the women as self-oppressive and ruled by crowd mentality.
With six idiosyncratic characters sharing the stage, the central performance by Genevieve Jones holds the play together even when her character, an aggressive second wave feminist, can’t unite the other imprisoned women. Liz Thomas’ direction, as well as the animated performances by the rest of the cast, helps remove any potential exhaustion from the busy action of the play.
The performances, costuming and Maddie Harper’s masterful makeup design ensured a clear parallel between the women and birds.
Despite the play’s promise, the concluding statement made by The Cagebirds is sadly undermined by a character reversal that is not explained in a satisfactory way. The final moments of the play then feel abrupt — a finish not worthy of the skill and efforts of the cast.
Even though The Cagebirds and Never Swim Alone can both seem hopelessly negative, the cast and crew make a joy out of the material.
The KTS’s Double Bill runs at 8 p.m. in the KTS Red Room until Nov. 9.