Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Open Hand explores the human response to unexpected acts of sincere kindness

Apologies for this interruption of the recent series on my travels to the East Coast, but I had a shoot of a local theater company's upcoming production this week that requires immediate attention.

How would you feel -- or react -- if a complete stranger helped you out of a jam, and did so with no expectations of reward, thanks or any other form of compensation? That's the premise for this 2016 play by Robert Caisley, an associate professor of theater and film at the University of Idaho and also head of the school's dramatic writing program.

Phoenix Theatre Co.'s The Open Hand, directed by Dale McFadden, opens tomorrow (April 20) and runs through May 14, at the theater's home at 729 N. Park Ave., which is a couple blocks off Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.

I attended two dress rehearsals of the show this week, and McFadden and his cast of five have the script down perfectly. I detected few hitches or a gaffes in either run-through. The performances by all cast members are stirring and convincing. The cast entails two couples, Allison and Jack (portrayed by Leah Brenner and Jay Hemphill) and Freya and Todd (Julie Mauro and Jeremy Fisher) along with the Samaritan, David Nathan Bright, played by Chuck Goad.

Allison is the first to come across David and his generosity; in the very first scene he picks up her tab at a restaurant when he sees that she can't find her billfold when she goes to pay. She is perplexed by the gesture -- especially considering that she has a policy of not accepting gifts for anything (including her birthday, and especially from her fiancee). So she wants to know why David would do that. When she later coincidentally comes upon David in the park while she's out for a run (the lead-off photo is from that scene), she stops to chat and to learn more about that unanswered question -- and about David.

She hesitates to tell her fiancee, Jack, about the restaurant and park incident at first, but after she does tell him, and after both Freya and Todd learn about David and his act of kindness, their suspicions run wild, and the story intensifies -- to the point of ... well, let's just say both rage and regurgitation are involved -- when David shows up at a party that Allison invites him to, still trying to show her gratitude.

Caisley's writing, and the cast members' execution of it, has some spectacular moments. One that stands out comes in an early-scene, rapid-fire exchange between Freya and Todd at a point when Todd tries to tell Freya she can be forgetful. When she disagrees, Todd at first tries to let the issue go and starts to leave the room, heeding the advice of their couples' counselor. But in an effort to get in the last word, Freya touches the right button, and Todd storms back in to blurt out "I don't like cilantro." The words clearly befuddle Freya, so Todd explains that he told Freya about his dislike of the spice on one of their first dates, yet she frequently uses cilantro when she cooks for them.

Tickets for The Open Hand are $27 per person on Thursdays and Sundays; $33 per person for Friday and Saturday performances; $20 each for people 21 and under and also for anyone who attends Cheap Week shows (April 20-23) You can buy tickets by calling the box office at 317-635-7529 or visiting the theater's website. Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

As always, click on a photo to view a larger, sharper version, which is particularly important if you access the blog using a mobile device. A gallery of the shoot will be available in the near future.

Photo geek stuff: I shot the rehearsals using a Canon 6D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I used a shutter priority mode, fixing my speed at 1/250, varying the f/stops and occasionally the ISO settings to adapt to changing light intensities.

Above: David Nathan Bright (Chuck Goad) notices Allison (Leah Brenner) cannot find her billfold, so he picks up the tab for her -- and also gives her his umbrella to use afterward in the pouring rain.

Above: Freya (Julie Mauro) and Todd (Jeremy Fisher) in an early-scene discussion in which Todd would eventually remind Freya about his aversion to cilantro.

Above: The scene where Allison finally tells fiancee Jack (Jay Hemphill) about David's acts of generosity toward her. 

Above: David Nathan Bright greeting guests at the party Allison invited him to. Freya listens to David go on with his small talk, contemplating when to jump in and find out David's alleged motivation.

 Above: David and Allison are still smiling, so it's still early in the party. 

Above: Freya begins her questioning, expounding on the improbability of a person doing acts of kindness, such as David's for Allison, without expecting anything in return.  

Above: David delights in the irony of how a work associate of his that he was supposed to meet the evening of the party apparently had interviewed Freya for a job opening in a wine company. Freya obviously is not amused.

Above: Wine is a key component in the play's story line, and at this point near the end of the party, it's Allison's turn to hit the bottle.

Above: The denouement features a dramatic, informative exchange between Allison and David. 

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