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none too fragile’s ON THE LINE, compelling script, acting at its finest

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

Sean Derry and Alanna Romansky, co-directors of none too fragile theater, have a knack for picking scripts that insight and excite.  They reach for creating dissonance in the minds of the audience.  In their short existence, the theatre has taken on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, racial hatred, and now unionism and big business.  No wonder the venue bills itself as “Akron and Northeast Ohio’s home for kick-a** theater!.”

ON THE LINE, which could be identified as a well written acting exercise, has an unusual background.  Presented off-Broadway by Mike Nichols, noted as a director rather than a producer, it starred the author, Joe Roland, in its initial staging.  Roland was a student at Nichols’ New Actors Workshop.

The play centers on three buddies that are bound so tightly that from the first grade until we meet them as adult employees of a manufacturing plant, they spend all their time together sharing beers, playing darts, even standing next to each other on the assembly line.  And, like the three musketeers, they fight not only to cure the ills of their limited society, but even, at times, each other.  Their resolve is tested when one becomes a union executive, another an employer “suit,” while the third remains in the plant and suffers the humiliation of a failed strike.  The concluding action of the play tests their friendship like no other life experience.

The play, like those of Clifford Odets (AWAKE AND SING and WAITING FOR LEFTY) and John Galsworthy’s STRIFE, bares open the soft underbelly that is exposed by labor conflicts.

There appears to be no question that the writer is impassioned about class differences, management/union issues, and personal loyalties.  He writes emotionally and effectively.

The entire play requires split second timing, fast pacing, clear characterizations, and realism.  The combination of Sean Derry’s focused directing and the superb performances makes the whole experience work.

Even the setting helps.  Shoved into a back room of Bricco’s Restaurant in Akron, the small black box theatre, where no patron is more than ten feet from the stage, adds in building the tension as the story unfolds.

Robert Branch masterfully develops, Dev, a paranoid loose canon, who has no emotional shut-off switch.  As in none too fragile’s last play, WHITE PEOPLE, Branch is mesmerizing.  His on-the-line union monologue is a classic of powerful acting, as are his maniacal sinking ship and the football game speeches.  He grabs hold of the role and wears it like his own skin.  He is quickly proving to be one of the area’s premiere actors, with Robert DeNiro-like qualities.

Mark Mayo creates Jimmy into a teddy bear guy, with a depth of loyalties.  A college grad, he puts aside his own personal success to stay with his friends.  Even when placed in a difficult position, he chooses loyalty.  His is an excellent portrayal.

Andrew Narten is the third member of this “dream” cast.  His Mikey is a well etched nicely textured characterization.

Capsule judgement:  none too fragile’s ON THE LINE is one of the best lessons in unit acting that has appeared on a local stage.  For anyone interested in seeing acting masters in action, developing a thought-provoking script, in a well directed production, this is for you!  Hurrah!  

ON THE LINE runs through August 24, 2013 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to