Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lyrical Gravel

Unraveled on the Gravel is a novelty for the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Curently running at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, Kevin Kostic's play is the first musical in BPF's long history. The work studies the tormented relationship between Ray (Josh Kemper) and his fiancee Amber (Sarah Jachelski). Moving backward in time, the drama unveils the sources of the couple's emotional conflicts through their college years and through their fluctuating friendship with fellow students Marlon (Nick Huber) and Wayne (Michael Milillo). An odd ghost/alter ego/ friend Wricks (Christopher Jones) provides provocative commentary on the doomed relationship.

Carrying a perfume of 1950s existentialism, the play convincingly unpeels the layers of Ray's self-hating anguish, which manifests itself as an eerie addiction to hitchhiking. The actors provide a solid ensemble portrayal of a tormented network of friendship and hostility, ably directed by Michael Tan. The closing "secret" of the play is too pat and sudden, but gusts of humor soften this somewhat psychoanalytic exploration of self-destruction and misplaced guilt.

Capably accompanied by an acoustic-rock trio (Brennan Kuhns, Christopher Marino, Elliott Peeples), the score permits Ray to reveal his inner demons and desires. The score is not exactly memorable (you won't be humming the tunes on your way out to Saint Paul Street), but the earnest expression of raw emotions through music effectively underscores the self-revelation at the core of the piece. Unfortunately, most of the cast cannot sing. (The two exceptions are Huber and Jones.) The offkey notes---more than a few---constitute the performance's most excruciating moments.

This musical drama represents one of BPF's most ambitious works. Despite the lyrical flaws, the complex web of psychological anguish in the play's soul glows.

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