Last night, the Stark Naked Theatre Company presented a staged reading of The Sleeping Girl, a new comedic drama by Suzanne Bradbeer that mixes realistic comedy with poignant drama. Playwright Bradbeer has a keen sense of stagecraft, and one character, Cece Pearce (Jessica Janes) enters being carried in the arms of Polk McKenna (Matt Hune), not because they are newly-weds, but because Cece is wearing a mermaid costume which she can't get off.
The leading character is Rita Faye Campbell (Susan Draper), very competent and much-liked and admired by friends - "she can do anything" - and a former mermaid herself at the museum in Tampa, Florida, where Cece swims. Rita Faye is now a New Yorker after leaving Tampa two decades ago, and is startled by the sudden re-entrance into her life of Jackson McKenna (Josh Morrison), older brother of Polk.
Jackson was about to marry Cece when he suddenly realized that he truly loved Rita Faye - they had been romantically intertwined two decades ago. And, it turns out, Rita Faye still has feelings for him - true love never dies. Jackson left Cece at the altar to seek Rita Faye, whom he found by looking her up in "the phone book", an anachronism that might be reconsidered - the play is set in the present.
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Cece and Polk have followed Jackson from Tampa, and, naturally enough, Cece is steaming at the gills (sorry, couldn't resist it) for being unceremoniously dumped. There is another character, Aggie Cunningham (Kim Tobin-Lehl), who is Rita Faye's best friend, and, yes, there is an Aggie joke.
The final character, Gwynne Vaughan (Michelle Elaine) enters late and is mysterious, so I'm not going to give that away, except that this development is where the magic realism enters, and the pathos begins. The reason for the play's title becomes clear, and we learn that there are limitations on what Rita Faye can do.
Dianne K. Webb directed, and stage directions were read by Arianna Bermudez. The acting was of a very high order- some of these actors are impressively talented - though different acting styles prevented the desired sense of ensemble.
The event was held at 7:30 at Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street, with a suggested donation of $10. This is the third play reading this season from the Stark Naked Theatre Company. In a staged reading, scripts are held on music stands, instead of lines being memorized, but rehearsals bring the staging closer to a finished production, and give the appreciative audience a better sense of the dynamics of the play. To get on the mailing list of the Stark Naked Theatre for future readings, or performances, call 832-866-6514 or visit starknakedtheatre.com.