The two plays that make up Gallery/Portraits, presented at Grove Haus by Casey Ross Productions, were first presented separately as IndyFringe Festival shows. I enjoyed them both in their original incarnations; Gallery has stayed with me all seven years since its inception, and it’s too soon to tell how long Portraits will linger seeing as it just debuted last year.
Gallery is a strongly written piece dealing with art/Art in an easily approachable manner infused with lighthearted humor. Where other writers might opt for deadly earnest sincerity, Casey Ross, the producer and playwright, deals with these issues in an unprepossessing way. She also keeps her pen light in Portraits, though she deals more personally and deeply with its characters.
But these two excellent plays don’t quite mesh into a single piece. Perhaps Ross will have the resources to stage the two works separately in repertory so as to properly showcase them. Grove Haus is plagued with echoes and a cluttered stage, which undermines the production's attempts at a minimalist, 'blank canvas' approach to staging. The upstage backdrop, a white screen, is rather poorly utilized — back lighting transforms it into a colorful shadow show which could have been used for some interesting moments.
Still, the material shines through. As the prodigal lead, Taylor Cox has just the right splicing of imp and cherub, looking every bit the lovable rogue. His performance is very fun, though his East Coast dialect is inconsistent and reminds of Joe Quimby. By contrast, Colin McCord, playing his opposite sounds like he walked straight out of the center of Brooklyn.
Honestly, the show doesn’t need these affectations — they weren't present in the original productions and just feel tenuous now. It would be lovely to hear McCord speaking with his own voice, particularly when his character’s brother, Martin, is portrayed speaking with the sound of a standard American. Unfortunately, Martin is rather weakly played, turning a surprisingly rounded character into a two-dimensional villain.
All is made up for, though, by McCord’s dynamic performance. His pain is made so very clear and beautiful, cutting but sweet. I look forward to seeing more from him. Also outstanding is Anthony Nathan as his lover. Nathan does a really lovely job cutting through the artifice of theatre and making himself exist within you as real your own heartbeat. The show has its flaws, but like its characters, they are easily redeemed.