One downside to any theatre festival show is that you are working fast and furious, and often with little or none of the benefits of a fully staged production. “Cold Porridge,” a very funny, new comedy whodunnit by G & E Productions is one of those plays that deserves a big and beautiful set! It was the one thing that kept coming to my mind with every joke, every entrance, every action, and every character introduction. At moments, the characters would run around the open stage and all I could think about was the comedy gold of an extra door here or there, an extra prop to pick up, and the unlimited actions you could give these actors with a full set and enhanced lighting in place. The reason this mattered so much to me is because the show is already funny, well directed, and cleverly written. It clearly fulfills one of the reasons you do a theatre festival in the first place: to discover the potential a play could have in a full production. But now let me tell you that even without a big set, this new material stands on its own.
Once again, playwright Emily Dinova teams up with director Gregory Cioffi to deliver a well-done turn at a genre not often attempted (the “Whodunnit”). Having seen London’s West End’s longest running play, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” the motivated pair came back to the States and launched into writing and creating a new addition to a genre that is a staple of great theatre. And for kicks and giggles, they decided to spoof it, which was really a daring choice. Let me tell you, it pays off.
Dinova’s last turn at a festival, “Capture,” was bare bones, dramatic, poetic, and psychological in scope. It pretty much was ready to tour had anyone decided to run with it. But this production, which saw it’s first real incarnation on the stage on three of the snowiest days of the season (they performed in that now infamous “Snow Bomb Cyclone” that hit NYC), now needs to find an Off Broadway or (dare I say) Broadway home with an open ended run. True, it could still use some development and work (which is also part of the theatre festival discovery process), but it’s well on it’s way.
The creators describe the setting as "Crescent Rock Manor, an island in the Pacific Northwest." Formally a mental institution for the criminally insane, it is now the grandiose estate (see my point) of a wealthy family who has gathered together for an engagement party - until the father of the soon-to-be-bride is found dead with a knife in his back. “As a storm rages on, the guests of the Manor find themselves trapped with a possible murderer, unexplainable paranormal activity, and old feuds with only one question on their minds: Whats for dinner?” It is a great place to start, and partly why it works so well.
The cast was quite good, memorable at moments, and quick on their feet. Kevin Tobon has one of the funniest characters (Miguelito Javier Alejandro Rosenberg) in the play and steals a few scenes along the way. But great efforts by Catriona Rubenis-Stevens (Lucinda Jones), Patricia Lawrence (Agnes Jones), and Hank Morris (Cousin Felix) make for a nicely rounded ensemble. Playwright Emily Dinova (Daniella Jones) takes a turn on the stage, and with a cast that includes Kyle Merker (Albert Jones), Kate Fallon (Charlotte Butters), Richard Staplehurst (William Dorser), and Doga Celik (Marc Poison), there is much room and sufficient characters to develop this material into a full blown comedy, complete with intermission.
Director Gregory Cioffi demonstrates an ability to take a fairly new concept and make it funny and watchable and enjoyable in spite of my gripe that it lacked a giant set. This in itself is a commendable effort. I’d say go see it…but for now you will have to wait to see where they take it next. The festival only gives them 3 performances and they are over. Stay in touch by joining their mailing list at GandEProductions.com.
The Winterfest at The Hudson Guild Theatre runs until early March.