Mixed Company: 'QWERTY' a haven where the lost are found


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Joan Ackermann's "QWERTY: Typewriter Plays" comprises four short plays -- "scenes," as they are referred to in the program -- that are linked in one way or another by the typewriter, that long lost manual precursor of desktops and laptops.

But there is more at stake in this appealingly written and presented collection of plays. At its heart, "QWERTY," which is wrapping up a three-weekend run this weekend at Mixed Company, is all about love -- love of words; love between and among people; love of things we value that have been lost and are in quirky, mysterious and unexpected ways, found.

In the opening scene, a typewriter given by a grandmother (Gillian Seidl in a revealing performance marked by admirable control and restraint) to her granddaughter (a personable Caroline Fairweather) becomes emblematic of a marriage in which the grandmother's love for her husband (a somewhat overly overwrought Larry Zingale), who is making an uneasy adjustment to retirement, has been soured by his seeming indifference to her simple needs and wants.

In another scene, an elderly widow, Dorothea (a poignant Deborah Morris), lingers over the vivid memory of her late author husband as he crafted his books.

In the final scene -- "QWERTY's" least subtle and most awkwardly written and played -- a young writer (Enrico Spada) who is struggling with his magnum opus, which he is composing on a laptop, becomes convinced that his best friend's (Ryan Marchione) new, older and more mature girlfriend (nicely played by Stephanie Hedges) is the muse who inspired the title heroine of his book-in-the-making.

In "QWERTY's" most haunting and compelling scene -- in terms not only of Ackermann's writing and delicate directing but also the tremendously nuanced performances of Gray Simons and Karen Lee -- a growingly desperate woman whose life is fragmenting beyond her control finds peace and sanctuary when she least expects it.

In "QWERTY's" only role without dialogue, Thom Whaley nevertheless speaks volumes as Charlie Whitlock, whom we first see in shirtsleeves sitting at a table repairing an old typewriter. After clearing his workspace, he re-emerges gussied up in a spiffy uniform-like outfit, as if he were the head usher at an elegant old movie palace, and goes about his business, often with a jaunty dance step or two.

Despite a first-rate revival of Ackermann's "Zara Spook and Other Lures" in April 2012, it's been a while -- three years -- since Ackermann's last collection of new plays, "Staying Afloat." With "QWERTY," something nearly lost has been regained.


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