SIMONIAN TAKES A BREAK FROM HIS IMAGE WITH 'DESERT HOLIDAY' WESTPORT COFFEEHOUSE SHOW VEERS AWAY FROM URBAN VIOLENCE THEMES.
July 12, 1998 By ROBERT TRUSSELL Publication: The Kansas City Star
The Westport Coffeehouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania, will present a kinder, gentler play by Ron Simonian called ``Desert Holiday,'' beginning at 10 p.m. Friday. The show will be repeated on Saturday and will continue each Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Aug. 31. Simonian, motivated in part by a desire to disprove the popular notion that he writes only about guns and grotesqueries, said he wanted to do a small-scale production of one of his ``other'' plays in order to get back to his roots. ``I had done so many shows at the warehouse behind Manny's in the early '90s,'' he said. ``I realized I was doing one show a year, and I used to do three or four. '' Using a special contract with Actors' Equity, the union for stage actors, ``Desert Holiday'' will be presented in a limited engagement with David Fritts, Kathleen Warfel, Richard Alan Nichols and Matt Rapport. Sidonie Garrett is staging the show. ``There's such a good underground scene in this town now that it's not even a step up or down, it's just a different venue,'' Simonian said. ``All of the actors I've talked to are excited to have another theater space in town doing professional new work. I think it can only help the community. We're not in competition with anybody, which is great. '' The locally produced Simonian plays involving firearms, dismemberments and cannibalism have some people under the impression that he writes ``People really associate these high, violent kind of things with my work,'' Simonian said. ``A couple of the plays produced at the Unicorn had a violent edge to them, but this is a different side of my work. I guess you could say it's trying to break the image. '' Garrett, the director, called the play a ``bittersweet black comedy'' about ``a toilet salesman in search of success in his business and unknowingly in search of himself (who) goes on the road and finds exactly what he needs. '' ``It's about love, about people searching for a connection. It's one of his better plays, as a whole. It's savagely funny but poignant. '' Warfel described her role as a disillusioned woman looking for everlasting love. She said she had neverplayed a part quite like this one. ``I would say it's sweet but it is no less bizarre than his other pieces,'' she said. ``It's full of surprises and interesting people ... I can't think of a playwright who really offers what he does.He's often very topical but in the case of this play in particular, very universal. '' Of the actors, all but Nichols have extensive experience performing Simonian scripts. Warfel participated in readings of ``Desert Holiday'' and ``Arms and Legs,'' Fritts was seen in ``Zone 3'' at the Unicorn, and Rapport appeared in productions of ``Thanatos,'' ``Arms and Legs'' and ``Bagheads. '' Simonian said these workshop productions give local actors a chance to play roles local artistic directors might not consider them for. ``There's a lot of typecasting in this town ... and this contract gives them a shot to break out of that,'' he said. This is the first opportunity Garrett has had to direct a Simonian play since the well-received New York production of ``Thanatos'' a few years ago. ``We've been talking about working together again for a long time,'' she said. ``Ron and I have always connected. I love the way he writes dialogue. His sensibility matches mine, which is scary. '' Performances during the run will be at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, 10 p.m. on Fridays and 8 and 11 p.m. on Saturdays. Tickets cost $10.Call 756-3222. Speaking of Ron Simonian, the Chicago Tribune gave the National Pastime Theater's production of ``Thanatos'' a thumbs up. ``With striking similarities to the novel/film 'Crash,' Simonian probes human responses to death - pleasure, fear and existential angst,'' wrote critic Chris Jones. ``It's not a play for the faint of heart (and it has its sensationalist aspects), but the dramatic situation has sufficient force to keep one involved for the brief duration. '' Other news Speaking of Chicago, the Trap Door Theatre in the Windy City will produce Kansas City playwright Lisa Cordes' ``Squat. '' Last week's stated desire by your humble theater critic that the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, being performed through July 19 in Southmoreland Park, should thrive and flourish brought this response from John Herbst, who lives in the adjacent 4500 block ``Come up to Oak Hall and look east into the park - a very messy installation and a line of portable toilets, which we have to look at for five weeks. Help HASF fund a new location - let another neighborhood share the experience. '' The Kansas City Star Date: July 12, 1998 Page: J8 Copyright 1998 The Kansas City Star Co.