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Anger seems to be the constant undercurrent among the actors, especially during the first act, despite talk of happy times and of liking one another.

by Toni Press-Coffman
Vanity Theatre
Directed by Deanna Jent
Through January 21, 2006

As Touch begins, Kyle Kalke stands on a completely black stage amid black blocks and rocks, alone, as isolated as if he were on the moon. Before the lights go up, stars twinkle on the black wall behind him. Then, under bright spotlights that cast long shadows, Kyle tells the audience of his love of astronomy, and his other passion—his wife. Zöe was warm, loving, outgoing—all things Kyle had not been before he met her.

Through anecdotes and stories, Kyle (Jason Cannon) tells the audience that all they had in common was a great love for each other, like nothing he had known before. Kyle was “a Keats freak,” as Zöe once told her sister, so he must have had an understanding of love as Keats saw it, and perhaps also a fear of early death—the other experience Zöe brought to him.

Zöe meets an unfortunate, mysterious, violent end, leaving Kyle with more questions to deal with than the average widower, and he alienates himself from everyone except his best friend, Bennie (Travis Estes). Throwing himself into work and turning to a prostitute named Kathleen (Margeau Steinau) to numb his mind, Kyle can think of nothing that would make him feel better, except for one particular astrological happening—one not often seen. Bennie is thrown together with Zöe’s sister, Serena (Sarah Cannon), by Kyle’s absence, and this results in a bittersweet turn of events for Kyle.

Gradually, through spending time with Kathleen, Kyle does come out of his shell. Kathleen seems fearless, not afraid to push Kyle. Eventually, he caves into his feelings. When he first began to see her, he wouldn’t let her touch him, and she wouldn’t let him kiss her, but after many encounters, they both gave in, and Kyle finds another friend.

Steinau is fabulous as Kathleen. She creates a captivating, likeable prostitute, with a contagious optimism that at times seemed foolish, and other times brave. While in many ways Kathleen is a prostitute like any other—skimpily dressed, attractive but not beautiful—Steinau doesn’t give the audience a stereotypical hooker, but rather the kind of woman one actually finds in the profession.

Estes portrays a steady best friend in all ways, giving a touching performance, especially as he steps in to do the things Kyle can’t, at times without knowing whether Kyle desires anything to be done at all. Both of the Cannons come across as confident actors, Sarah as a woman changed by love, and Jason as a man changed by loss, but none of the three bring the same level of nuance to the stage as Steinau.

With the exception of Steinau, anger seems to be the constant undercurrent among the actors, especially during the first act, despite talk of happy times and of liking one another. That anger often culminates in yelling, and although the raised voices seemed appropriate to the action, at times it was jarring, and perhaps blunted the emotions of the audience.

It was easy to guess where the play was going by the middle of the second act. All the elements come together neatly—perhaps too neatly. Possibly some of the subtlety of the script may have been lost, or run over, by the continuous anger onstage.

The actors do well at communicating the nature of deep relationships, connections with one another and with one’s own interests, and the ability of these relationships to be catalysts for change.

Deanna Jent’s direction made good use of the space, conveying everything from a living room to a desert grave with just the black set and a few props. Occasionally it seemed as if the characters were part mountain goat, as they did a lot of climbing and leaping onto the back half of the stage. Overall, the action easy to follow and the positioning of the actors contributed to their characters, as when Bennie spends time on stage in the first act, in the background, with no lines, only supporting glances and nods at Kyle, foreshadowing the role of supportive friend he would play throughout.

Touch offers an interesting glimpse into the raw pain of loss and the joy of love for one man caught at an irreconcilable juncture of the two, and ties this neatly to the enormous, cold universe surrounding the characters, and the unique, tiny spirit of each individual.

Vanity Theatre presents Toni Press Coffman’s Touch through January 21 at the Black Box Theatre at Fontbonne University (6800 Wydown Blvd.). Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 students/seniors. Seating is limited, and reservations are available by calling 314-889-4561.

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