...Or Dare — Wherein Lies the Truth?

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What happens when two people with opposing mindsets do not have the ability to escape one another?  Within Foundry Theatre Works’ staging of two emotion-searing one acts—Viki Boyle’s The Whole Truth and Andrea Goyan’s Cornered —precepts of truth, facts and winning, are masticated beyond recognition, let alone digestion. This is a good thing. Helmer David Robinson guides a pair of two-person ensembles through finely realized confrontations that render psyches permanently scarred while still maintaining the essence of social civility and even humor.

The Whole Truth focuses on the middle-of-the-night sparring between an uptight businesswoman (played by Jennifer Ashe) and a gentle stay-at-home housewife (played by Kate Whitney), two jurors forced to room together during a court-mandated sequester while they deliberate the fate of a defendant in a high-profile murder case.  Scripter Boyle creates a finely balanced battle of ideological perceptions as chain-smoking business lady relentlessly attempts to figuratively throttle the housewife with “the greater truth” of good versus evil while housewife refuses to look past the tangible facts of this particular case.

Ashe embodies the embittered visage of a formerly idealistic soul who now cannot abide the thought of a truly evil person once again beating the system. She pugnaciously stares outward, constantly looking beyond where she is now in this place and time.  In sharp contrast, Whitney’s housewife is firmly grounded in the present, rooting out any remains of snacks she can find at 2am, while longing to down the half-empty can of soda she left somewhere in the room. To her, the truth of this is case is irrefutable. As they war through the night, it is apparent that acid tongued Ashe and deceptively low-keyed and defensive Whitney have no power beyond the ability to wound one another.

Playwright Boyle has placed truth out of reach. It is also interesting that these two ladies actually make an adroit comedy duo. With the help of Robinson, their stimulus-response timing is nearly perfect. When business lady reveals that she gave up her virginity to a card-carrying Republican 30 years earlier, housewife retorts, “You’ll be found out. They keep records." 

The second play, Cornered, introduces Ruth (Jacey Margolis), an off duty waitress waiting for a bus late at night. Ashe returns, portraying an aggressive woman, claiming to be the sister of the restaurant manager where Ruth works. Politely attempting to stave off this unsettling woman who is becoming increasingly familiar, Ruth finally catches the woman in a lie. Far from retreating, this supposed sister of Ruth’s boss manipulates Ruth into a Truth or Dare challenge that could lead to dire circumstances. Scripter Goyan creates an off-centered pas de deux wherein a good-hearted soul gives up total power to a woman who is clearly unbalanced. It is as unsettling as it is quite believable.

Margolis admirably captures the social transformation of Ruth—from reluctantly sympathetic and polite to decidedly fearful—while not being able to muster the physical determination to simply flee. Even when she realizes she has been financially conned by this woman, she is more surprised than angry. And at plays end, Margolis’s Ruth stares in kind of wonder at this woman, not quite sure she has learned the real “truth” of this situation.  In a sharp contrast from her earlier portrayal, Ashe is just bright-eyed and bouncy as this stranger in the night who wreaks such havoc on the emotions of Ruth. It is easy to believe that she can command the young lady for so long because Ashe invests her with an air of absolute certainty at all times.

This Foundry Theatre Works production is one of the true gems of Fringe Fest 2015, wrought by an LA company that has put together an adroit, synergistic alliance of playwrights, director and ensemble.

Or Dare…Wherein Lies the Truth? plays Saturday, June 27 (6:00pm); at New Collective Mainstage, 6440 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Tickets available here.