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Monday, March 18,2013

A shout-out to the '70s

With the priceless Leslie Hull leading the way, 'Gemini' finds high-decibel fun in Philly

by Paul Wozniak

Albert Innaurato’s personalized tragic-comedy
‘Gemini’ plays out in Italian-dominated South Philadelphia (although it could
easily be transferred to Boston, the Bronx, Brooklyn or parts of New Jersey). With
dialogue mostly shouted and all the physicality essential to Italian speech, “Gemini”
is the ideal kick-off production for Michigan State University’s Summer Circle
Theatre season: loud, sometimes poignant and very funny.


Set in 1973, ‘Gemini’ follows a day in the life
of seven interconnected characters as they forge through issues of love given
and unrequited, sexual identity, body image and, of course, the zodiac. To
describe the story further is to given away important revelations. To director
Rob Roznowski’s credit, “Gemini” feels less like a theatrical time capsule than
it could. The character revelations and developments are relevant enough to
avoid blank stares from younger viewers. Roznowski keeps the show moving along
swiftly with flawless timing, particularly during explosive scenes at the end
of Acts One and Two.


The numerous script failings, however, are beyond
Roznowski’s control, including character monologues filled with over-obvious
metaphors. In an ensemble production from the ’70’s, every character apparently
must verbalize an explanation for their actions, but for audiences, “Gemini” moves
like a family reunion. It feels like there are fun relatives around, but
inevitably you are momentarily stuck talking to the weirdo cousin everyone
avoids. Politeness rather than interest holds you in their grasp until that
necessary distraction provides your exit.


In “Gemini,” Leslie Hull is that necessary
distraction. As Bunny, the neighborhood drama-queen, Hull completely commits
herself to uninhibited physicality, turning a scene of staged drunkenness into
memorable hilarity. Hull masterfully blends her character’s inner torment with unaware
playfulness.


Nicholas Dressel rarely steals scenes as Fran
Geminiani, a middle-aged Philly father with skin rashes, but he does provide
strong support. Dressel’s charming smile perfectly suits Fran’s easygoing persona,
which becomes humorously unhinged at the sight of bad table manners.


Graham Lundeen, Claudia Dibbs and Chris
Robinson as home-from-college Harvard students believably relay their romantic
entanglements and finally shine during their fluidly choreographed showdown in
the second half.


Ian Paige and Brittane Rowe understandably
struggle with their oddball characters, one in arrested development and the
other in arrested domesticity, but each finds their moments to stand out.


“Gemini” marks the first Summer Circle show
to utilize body microphones to correct the long-standing problem of dialogue
being lost outside. Ironically, the microphones are hardly needed, considering
virtually every line is shouted. “Gemini” does benefit from a stunning two-story
set of a brick fa'ade, one with plenty of doors and windows from which to
scream, thanks to designer Zac Campbell.


Like the reality television of today, “Gemini’s”
most enjoyable moments come from its most dynamic characters, the ones that swear,
attempt suicide and overeat at the same volume.


'Gemini'
MSU Summer Circle Theatre
Continues 8 p.m. Friday, June 10, and Saturday, June 11
Outdoor theater behind the MSU Auditorium, along the Red Cedar River
Free

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