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THEATER REVIEW: Plein Air Plays at Ancram Opera House

"With this trio of original one-acts, AOH shows, once again, that it has the most inventive and creative performing arts summer program around."

With “The Plein Air Plays,” Ancram Opera House (AOH) shows, once again, that it has the most inventive and creative performing arts summer program around. Acknowledging both the rural beauty of its home in Columbia County, New York, and safety concerns in another COVID summer, AOH staged a trio of original one-acts in the open air, in three natural settings, all within a mile or so radius from its 19th century grange hall venue.

Frank Boyd in “Baseball is Dead.” Photo: B. Docktor

Two of the plays are, in a fashion, about apocalypse, but presented with AOH’s signature style of disarming whimsy and wry edginess. Writer/performer Frank Boyd (whom I saw in my first visit to AOH in his “Holler Sessions” a few years back) presents his solo play “Baseball is Dead” in the baseball field in Ancram Village. Playing a solo, imaginary game of baseball, dressed in vintage baseball gear and using a crooked, 100-year-old baseball bat, Boyd comes off the imaginary mound, crosses the field and speaks his mind to an audience of two dozen — seated on benches in the outfield — about what baseball means to him. Recalling backyard games with his dad, the 20-minute monologue is as much a bittersweet memoir of his father as it is warning that we can’t assume a forever: “Will baseball end with everything else?” he queries.

Andrea Morales and Aaron J. Stewart in “In a Million Years. Photo: B. Docktor

Mexican playwright Georgina Escobar’s “In a Million Years,” set at the edge of a small farm pond, is a love story infused with magical realism. Elena trades iPhone calls with her best friend about her breakup with her husband George, and visits a pond where she fell in love 20 years before. Beset by guilt, and fearful that mermaids will arise from the waters and identify her as the party responsible for the breakup, she eyes across the pond her old boyfriend Dallas, who tests her enduring, true love for him by tempting the hidden power of the waters. Choreography of Dallas’ feigned drowning by AOH Co-director Jeff Mousseau is quite effective, as are charming turns by Andrea Morales and former AOH intern Aaron J. Stewart as young lovers.

The most transporting play of the triptych, the last, is “POOF!” written and performed by actor/author and LGBTQ+ activist Celeste Lecesne, who wowed audiences with his 2015 Drama Desk-winning solo show “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.” “POOF!” is set in a woodland glen under the spreading trunks of a 200-year-old oak. Celeste enters through the wild gardens of the glen as a fairy, both as a real (i.e. magic) fairy and, well, a real fairy (what they used to call gays). In a most imaginative monologue, with uncanny puck and razor-sharp wit, Celeste weaves the legend of fairies (and their magical ability to survive) with a world history of repression, culminating with a contemplation of the earth on the environmental edge today. In an amazingly spiritual stream of consciousness — Celeste’s language is rhapsodic — “POOF!” emerges finally as a prayer for the future. Amen. “POOF!’ is theater as pure as it should always be.


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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.