Sept. 30 2009 12:00 AM

Tricky ’Scenes’ carried by acting treat

Here’s a format for disaster: Jeffrey M. Jones’ “70 scenes of Halloween,” now playing at Lansing Community College’s Black Box Theater, is actually made up of 70 scenes, each announced by an off-stage voice, each beginning with lights going out and then lit again.

Could any play survive this repetitive format? This one barely does, and only thanks to the mighty efforts of the actor playing the main character.

“70 Scenes” isn’t really about Halloween, although the doorbell rings with trick-ortreaters in scene after scene.

At the center of this play are Jeff and Joan, a corrosive, complaining couple that can find nothing more interesting to do than let the artificial light of a TV set shine on their flaccid faces.

Jeff (Cody Masalkoski) is burdened by a seething indifference for Joan, his lover of the last nine years. The audience watches Jeff’s disdain play out in a nightmarish sameness reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day,” except there is no selfimprovement scenario for our protagonist.

As Jeff, Cody Masalkoski offers a wide spectrum of facial moodiness and convulsive stage movement, as he presents all sides of this character.

Playing opposite Masalkoski is Kayla DeWitt, as Joan, who believably shrugs and sighs her way through each scene.

Abandon hope all ye who seek a linear storyline. One begins to wish it would move along, as scene 21 is announced, then we drag onto scene 48; when it jumps back to scene 45, one shifts uncomfortably in one’s seat.

In one scene, Masalkoski discovers a dead chicken in a box on his doorstep, plucks the chicken out, places it on the TV and dances with it. Oddly, this is a high point of the production, evoking confused and uncomfortable laughter from an audience trying to figure out where this play is going. But, alas, it is going nowhere.

Interspersed with the scenes of the couple are scenes with a Beast and a Witch. Sometimes the Beast is Jeff, sometimes not. Sometimes the beast is played by actor Anthony Monroe. Sometimes the Witch is Joan, sometimes not. Sometimes the Witch is played by actress Samantha Seybert. These seem to be metaphoric Halloween creatures meant to signify other aspects of Jeff and Joan — or maybe not.

Monroe and Seybert do well projecting scary stage movement and cartoon voices through their masks.

There is a point to this play, maybe more than one. Life better be more than watching TV if it is to be enjoyed. Relationships, if they are not going to end in emptiness and divorce, might require some thoughtful effort by the parties involved.

Ever wondered what it would look like if your own daily life were reenacted on a stage? We can all wish that it would play better than the sad-sack lives of Jeff and Joan.

‘70 Scenes of Halloween’

Jeffrey M. Jones Through Oct. 3 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday LCC Black
Box, 168 Gannon Building, LCC $10/$5 (517) 483-1488