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Theater’s best prospects emerge from ‘Black Box’

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    Andy Hwang and Becky McGarvey are a couple checking their cell phones in the Ernst Lab Theatre's "Black Box Black Blocks."

Cannibals, "Dungeons & Dragons" and dysfunctional relationships are key themes in "Black Box Black Blocks 2" at the UH-Manoa Earle Ernst Lab Theatre. Conceived and produced last year by Elisa Diehl as a showcase for new playwrights, directors and choreographers, it is again worth seeing as a preview of the up-and-coming.

Chris Slagle stars in "Voicemail," playwright Rosina Favors’ thoroughly modern tale of a man who deals with loneliness by leaving messages on his girlfriend’s cell phone. The playwright’s surprise twist in the story comes early, but the strength of Slagle’s performance carries the action past that point and holds our interest through each subsequent scene.


» Where: Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii-Manoa

» When: Final show, 2 p.m. today

» Cost: $7 general admission, $5 for students and seniors (tickets go on sale at the door one hour before each performance; cash only)

» Info:

Jillian Blakkan-Strauss, Erin Chung, Chris McGahan and Dan D. Randerson perform tag-team style in "It’s All Relative," playwright Siobhan Ni Dhonacha’s dissection of dysfunctional relationships. Each of the four takes a turn playing a heartbroken victim; each takes a turn as a person whose actions ended a relationship. Cast members go out into the audience seeking validation, and one storms out of the theater in rage. The fact the cast was still "on book" (referring to the script for their lines) at Wednesday’s preview showing didn’t lessen the power of the performance.

Playwright Anna Cole provides a welcome comic interlude as Raymond Rivera (Stefan) and Tempest Hayes (David) star in "Dungeons and Dragons." Stefen is a 28-year-old sometime college student and passionate dungeon master (a combination referee and rules interpreter) who rules the "D&D" universe in his mother’s basement. David is a lifelong friend whose "Level 2 half-ogre, half-fairy" character has just been killed by a bad throw of the dice. All the other players have left the basement, and their characters are, therefore, inactive. Since Stefen in his all-powerful role of dungeon master won’t allow David’s character to survive the dice roll or be revived through a magic spell or in some other way, David decides to leave as well. What follows is a beautifully played true-to-life comedy about friendship and competitiveness.

Actor McGahan returns to direct "One Percent," playwright Sean M. Yannell’s tale of a man who goes home with a woman he meets in a bar and learns that she and her husband are cannibals – and that he’s their next meal. Yannell succeeds in creating a cannibal character who explains in articulate terms why he exempts himself from social norms, but the victim’s abrupt acceptance of his fate seems unrealistic, even by the norms of "Twilight Zone"-style fiction.

Music by the Cranberries provides the frame of reference for "Linger," choreographer/dancer Becky McGarvey’s one-woman piece about a woman struggling to cope while she waits for a telephone call. McGarvey’s use of movement effectively portrays the tumult of waiting and hoping and killing time while the phone doesn’t ring. She ends it on an ironic note that takes the piece in a different direction.

On the flip side, while all four choreographers’ musical choices support the movement in their respective pieces, the work of all but Phoebe Hwang ("JARP") would have been much enhanced by input from a good costume designer.


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