- Photo courtesy of Off The Wall Productions.
- Karen Baum in Off the Wall's Shaken & Stirred.
The title is a multi-layered pun. "Shaken" and/or "stirred" are standard directions for the making of cocktails, but they also describe the characters in this revised production of Virginia Wall Gruenert's drama, which premiered at Off the Wall Theater in 2007. And, of course, the one-act, told in a series of flashbacks, aims to shake up and stir its audience in pondering the ricocheting effects of alcoholism on the drinkers themselves and those around them, in this tale of quirky, strong women.
Originally a one-woman showcase for Gruenert, Shaken & Stirred now depends upon four talented actresses (including director Robyne Parrish and the playwright herself). The focus is on the travails and progress of two young women: the whimsically named Happy and Harley, respectively a non-drinker and a drinker. As the former, Erika Cuenca moves with feline grace as she grows from gawky schoolgirl to the bloom of young adulthood, under the shadow of her father's severe, anti-social alcoholism.
We're not subjected to his debaucheries -- all the male characters are off stage -- but Karen Baum jumps into the nitty and the gritty as Harley. At heart she's a good kid, but a whole heap of real bad luck pushes her into the arms of John Barleycorn as a teen. So good elsewhere at portraying pert and cute, Baum succeeds against type wallowing in serious and vicious muck.
Supporting the disparate heroines, Gruenert and Parrish are both multi-cast as various older women: mother, aunt, et al. Gruenert still has a star turn in the surprising role of a long-time AA sponsor, not to mention Happy's beleaguered mother. Parrish adds glamour and pathos as the wife of an upscale alcoholic. The two also add a bizarre comic twist in a send-up of AA presented as a drunken fantasy. (While not hostile to Alcoholics Anonymous, Shaken & Stirred is far from unmixed endorsement.)
Paul A. Shaw's set, Michael E. Moats' light and sound, and costumer Chaleece McCracken augment both the nightmare and the human comedy.
SHAKEN & STIRRED continues through Oct. 22 at Off the Wall Productions, 147 N. Main St., Washington, Pa. 724-873-3576 or insideoffthewall.com. Also Oct. 26-29 at Theatre 54, 244 W. 54th St., New York. 412-394-3353 or proartstickets.org