Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga has created a tradition of company-generated scripts. I did not see “Lunch Money,” which was themed around bullying, but I saw and very much liked “Have A Seat,” about homelessness.
The newest ensemble-created script, “Sight for Sore Eyes,” currently playing at ETC’s Eastgate Town Center space, demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of this theatrical model. Twelve people are listed as having helped write the script, and there are two directors, ETC producing partners Christy Gallo and John Thomas Cecil. Their inspiration this time is retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that slowly (or in this case, not so slowly) causes blindness.
A 32-year-old man, Martin, has been diagnosed with the disease. He’s now on his third doctor’s opinion, but they are all the same—he’s got it, and it’s progressing rapidly. The story revolves around Martin’s “stages of grief” reactions to his condition and how it also affects his pregnant wife Riley, his good friend and brother-in-law Paulie, and additionally, his dead mother and unborn child.
Hunter Rodgers as Martin delivers yet another seemingly effortless, real performance and is unafraid to make his character’s introspection and yes, whining, annoying as well as sometimes funny and moving.
As Paulie, Dakota Brown makes a welcome return to the stage. Dakota Brown is one of the funniest people alive and Dakota Brown getting increasingly frustrated in a losing game of cards with Rodgers’ Martin is the highlight of this show.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, all of the women’s roles are underdeveloped. Robbye Lewis makes a valiant stab at her Doctor/Crazy Dead Mother/Older Riley combo, but even this usually wonderful actress can’t make theatre magic with lines that sound false and characters that are one-note. (Though Mom does have her moments.)
The same problem holds for Andrea-Taylor Ward as Riley. Her character goes nowhere and aside from her being portrayed by her husband as virtually a saint, we know little about her.
Makenzie Young gets to play the couple’s unborn child (whose name is one of the funnier running jokes), but again, is dealing with a character who is really rather bland for someone who may well be facing the same fate as her father.
I liked the script’s excursions into fantasy and, as always, I admire the spirit behind ETC’s purpose. But as it is, this script lacks an arc and needs a good punching into shape. Yet it’s well worth a trip to Brainerd Road to help support the only place in town currently attempting original, ensemble-generated work. In theatre, along with everything else: Eyes on the prize.
“Sight for Sore Eyes”
$20, $15 students • 7:30 p.m. March 15-16, • 22 & 31; 2:30 p.m. March 16 & 24
Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga • 5600 Brainerd Road • (423) 987-5141 • ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com