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Magicians turn dross into gold

What could be more frightening than the appearance of bunny slippers in the first act of a theatrical production?

It suggests to all the world that there is nothing of value upon which to focus, neither dialogue nor acting, so someone tossed in these objects of mirth to fill the emptiness. All is lost!

Imagine, therefore, what an achievement it is to turn these testaments to mediocrity into instruments of magic. This is the accomplishment of playwright Neena Beber, the director of her play, Rachel May, and the cast of "Hard Feelings."

Not another word about the bunny slippers. Go see the play to understand.

Though you may be unfamiliar with Beber what is important to keep in mind is how only the truly talented can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Consider what Franz Joseph Haydn did with the repetition of the three notes comprising the melody now referred to as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Though incorporated in the composer's "Symphony No. 94," the genius of Haydn's insight is only fully explored and revealed by the visionary conductor of a virtuoso symphony orchestra performing the piece.

Beber is fortunate to have the talented Rachel May, co-founder of Synchronicity Performance Group, directing her work. It is May who imbues these bunny slippers with a significance transcending the tedium of an object culturally determined to be inherently amusing – wave bunny slippers before us and we know we are supposed to laugh.

All this melding of talent, creator and interpreter, is well and good, but something even more interesting happens in the 7 Stages Back Stage Theatre. Stacy Melich, who plays the character around whom the play revolves, brings such an authenticity to her portrayal that the playwright's clever witticisms occasionally interrupt Melich's seriocomic interpretation.

As funny – at times hilariously funny – as the play is, Melich's Selma possesses a fully fleshed identity and engages with a humanity that supplants humor born solely of intellectual wit. We're more concerned with what is going to happen to Selma than in reveling in some casual bon mot tossed in for amusement.

Such immediacy, such engagement is not commonplace in theater regardless of the best efforts of those responsible. Hence, when it is achieved it is something special.

Though the other characters are not so completely human the actors portraying them are of such accomplishment that the play soars to delirious heights

John Benzinger is an absolute delight as the salacious, imperious Dr. Disposio. He turns Beber's brilliantly conceived line "Tell me a lie, my dear" into an evocation of sublime pomposity.

And if poor, insecure Selma's angst isn't sufficiently debilitating, Disposio commands, "Lie, be an interesting person."

Delicious lines abound in this play. Selma's patient, Irene (Lane Carlock) is the quintessence of self-absorption. She speaks only of herself and everything about her has been altered in one way or another to make her an irresistible product for consumption by rich, eligible males.

Admittedly Irene does suffer from a minor disability of sorts. To suggest that the gravity she assigns this incapacity finds its origins in anything other than self-absorption is belied by her assertion, "Everyone conspires to minimize

my loss!" This is great

writing.

So Disposio's making Selma feel bad and Irene is reinforcing this insecurity. Is there no end to Selma's misery?

Apparently not. Selma's lover, Finola (Kristi Casey) has left her as well. Despite Woody Allen's observation of some years ago celebrating the advantages of bisexuality: bisexuals have twice the opportunity to find a date on Friday night, the situation only multiplies Selma's confrontations with rejection.

The playwright has some high-spirited fun with sexuality of all sorts and the more sensitive should be aware the dialogue is quite ribald at times. Most will find it rip-roaring fun.

Balancing these varied assaults on Selma's self-image is her relationship with Granny Gee (Mary Ellen McCall ), her live-in grandmother. Another intelligent choice by the playwright, this opportunity for Selma to care for another adds an additional facet to her personality and, more importantly, one that distracts her from her own anxieties.

Perhaps it is McCalls efficacy at incarnating the dotty granny that allows the bunny slippers to transcend the banal. Or perhaps the magic is in the writing. Or the directing?

Never employ rationality to assess wonder. Art is wonder-full and this production is art.