ORANGE — Eastern Boys Productions has a blueprint for becoming a theater company. The plan is smudged here and there, and some of edges have crumbled, but it's a beginning.
Working out of a modest but comfortable storefront in a small shopping mall in Orange, the enterprising Blankenship brothers, who are the Eastern Boys of the company's name, are presenting "The Fourposter," that venerable comedy by Jan de Hartog.
The play chronicles the progress of a couple's married life over 35 years, beginning with their wedding night in 1890. It is what theater people commonly refer to as a "period piece" because it takes place in the past, when manners and mores were not what they are today.
The usual pitfall of such plays is that the artists are so much concerned with the differences between the way we were and the way we are that human nature is hardly recognizable in the quaint behaviors, fancy outfits and odd patterns of speech that overwhelm the action in the name of "authenticity."
Director R.A. Blankenship Jr. has avoided this trap. His production is personal and contemporary in its sensibilities. The actors find their own rhythm, a decidedly untraditional one punctuated by "OKs" and some improvisational rewriting, but they stay alive within it, and the spontaneity is liberating.
The young performers, Wendi De Barros and Ali Vossough, are well-matched, and although the subtler emotions elude them, they do get some steam up when they're arguing, while De Hartog's tried-and-true script fills in many of the blanks.
Having conquered the greatest obstacle, Blankenship almost allows himself to be undone by the little challenges.
Examples: There's a metal stove on stage in which someone has taken care to create a merrily blinking fire. The young husband thinks nothing of pounding on its side and treating it as if it were no hotter than an errant TV set. A good-sized metal trunk, ostensibly full of the bride's trousseau, is flung around as if it's empty.
These are among the parts of the blueprint that could use some attention. The costume designs, credited to Kemi Lapite, gamely attempt to span the years, and the set design by Herman Boodman and director Blankenship is serviceable. M.E. Blankenship handles the technical end, including lights and sound.
The Blankenships' plans for Eastern Boys Productions include an ambitious schedule of seven productions a year and a vision statement about teamwork and non-traditional casting.
They seem to be idealistic men who have clung tenaciously to their dream through several company metamorphoses. And yet on the night this reviewer attended the show, the performers were forced to deliver a command performance for a lone audience member: me.
When the cast outnumbers the customers, the producers need to go back to the drawing board.
* "The Fourposter", Ensemble Theatre, 844 E. Lincoln Avenue, Suite E, Orange. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 25. $8-$15. (714) 998-2199. Running time: 2 hours.
Wendi De Barros: Agnes
Ali Vossough: Michael
An Eastern Boys Production. Written by Jan de Hartog. Directed by R.A. Blankenship Jr. Set: Herman Boodman and R.A. Blankenship Jr. Costumes: Kemi Lapite. Lights and Sound: M.E. Blankenship.