“An Afternoon with the Piney Fork Press Theater” - January 7, 2012

Reviewed by Anthony Esposito

During the winter, even a winter as mild as this one, you don’t want to take an almost spring-like day for granted. In other words, on such a gorgeous day, you don’t want to spend the better part of it indoors – in a library no less.

That’s what I was thinking when I stepped inside the slightly worn and somber Grand Central Library on East Forty-Sixth Street to see a slate of one-act play-readings written by Johnny Culver of the Piney Fork Press Theater of New York. I knew Johnny Culver was no novice at the theater arts but still - 55 degrees - in January!

There were seven one-acts in all, five rapid-fire scenarios book-ended by Parts One and Two of the longer work, New Year’s Eve, from which the heart and soul of the lot emanated. All seven works take us back to the 70’s with enough pop-culture references to make you believe in time machines. But who needs such a contraption when you have the imagination of Johnny Culver personified by Petey ______, a gentle, warmhearted fellow who wants nothing more than to be true to himself in love and aspiration.

We leave Petey abruptly to join Love of Life already in progress where Mother is in the living room making TV love to Bennett Cerf on What’s My Line? and Anna Mae, her daughter and nag, who wants to be rid of her mother and all too neatly, by the end of this funny but oddly malicious creation, gets her wish. Not to worry though. Next up is The Bionic Woman’s Scrapbook where Johnny Culver’s imagination fires on all twelve cylinders – deep into the future on a spaceship – where our friend Petey rejoins us, only this time, as a parakeet! I’ll leave the interpretation of this Star Trekian zaniness to future audiences but I confess to great relief when Petey the Parakeet finds himself happily back home in his cage. Perhaps this play is yet another answer to Maya Angelou’s poem, Why the Caged Bird Sings!

But who has time for farce when the best has yet to come? The next three pieces, Sit and Spin in the Krazy Kar, Fred and Shirley and Where’d I Leave My Eyeglasses? become the sad ride home to Petey in New Year’s Eve, Part Two. Without a single wasted word, these three little gems reveal the true strength of Johnny Culver as a playwright. His use of a poster-sized photograph in Krazy Kar turned an already touching reminiscence into a personal brush with one woman’s unspeakable tragedy. Fred and Shirley, in barely ten minutes, demonstrates why even couples that have had enough of each other need each other terribly when a terrible event strikes them hard and forever. And Where’d I Leave My Eyeglasses? Although it lacks the poignancy and verisimilitude of the other two works, it still leaves you with the unsettled feeling of a loose end fluttering in an ill wind.

But, for all the heavy emotion that Johnny Culver lays on you, he has the good sense to bring you back to Petey who we find as hopeful as ever finishing up a reading of his works to an audience of one, a friend, who offers him this sage advice: you might not be a famous writer, Petey, but you are a good writer. And it’s at that moment when you realize that you were Petey’s audience all along. A deftly written string of one-acts made even better by an excellent group of actors performing with all their heart and enthusiasm for you in a windowless room in a library on an almost spring-like day. What more could an audience want? Together, playwright and actors, artists all, they represent the best that talent and hard work have to offer.