"Talking With," a set of 11 monologues by Jane Martin divided into two acts, is a blend of unusual performances presented by the women of Pandora's Box Theatre Company.
The show features 11 women, each alone on stage at different intervals, talking with and including the audience in a particularly poignant time in their lives. The monologue characters range from a religiously fanatical baton twirler to an aging woman who believes McDonald's is her salvation, and that plastic is proof of an afterlife.
The play is performed in the back room of Rust Belt Books on Lexington Avenue in Buffalo, where metal heating ducts snake along the wall and audience seating consists of kitchen chairs and stools. The stage consists of two scratched and worn wooden platforms, shoved together in one corner of the room.
There is really no set for "Talking With" except a few props for the individual monologues lined up along the stage's right wall. Lighting is coordinated by one woman who dims and brings up the lights in full view of the audience.
Although crude, the minimalist set and lighting only add to the play's ambience. The audience never feels it is merely watching something fantastical and imaginary, but instead feels like a part of something real, raw and utterly human.
The monologues begin with Pamela Rose Mangus' performance of "Fifteen Minutes." Mangus, a Pandora's Box veteran, rushes onto the stage and begins preparing for her part in an unknown play, while speaking to someone or anyone.
She complains that just once, she would like to turn the house lights on in the theatre to see the faces of those she will be "baring herself" to. The lights come on, she sees the audience's faces and begins speaking directly to them.
Mangus' boisterous and strong performance sets the stage for the next 10 heartfelt, comical and moving monologues that evolve into something resembling conversations with the audience.
"Rodeo," the third monologue in "Talking With," is convincingly performed by Mary Moebius, a seasoned Buffalonian actress. Moebius strides onto the stage, cracks open a beer, and straddles a chair set in the center of the stage, talking about the "good ol' days of the rodeo." Moebius' witty performance brings the audience to tears of laughter and then quickly plunges it into a silent outrage at the injustices of the commercialized world.
The first act ends with Leah Zicari's "Clear Glass Marbles" monologue. Zicari, a part-time actress and full-time musician, performs with a quiet strength that seems anything but fictitious as she drops clear glass marbles on the floor and recounts the last days of her mother's life.
The second act bursts onto the stage with the screams and grunts of Tammy Reger's pregnant character. Reger, another experienced local actress, hilariously shrieks, strains and prays to God that she and her husband will be able to cope with her unborn child's deformities. The monologue is called "Dragons," and Reger's performance is just that large and impressive.
The monologues end with the urging to live life to the fullest in "Marks," perhaps the least impressive of all the monologues. Ellen Opiela, the director of "Talking With," gives this monologue less than 100 percent of her heart and it shows.
The "Talking With" monologues may be the monologues of unusual and exceptional women, but they describe and address plights and situations that every woman can relate to. It is a performance that female friends and mothers and daughters should see together.
Leave the men at home and celebrate female strength and courage every Sunday at 7 p.m. until Nov. 11 at Rust Bel