The first three plays written by Cricket Daniel evoke a feeling more than they inspire emotion. The feeling of watching an 8-10 pm sitcom block with family, sprawled out on the couch, after a giant dinner. Her characters are archetypical with flashes of heart, but mostly serve as joke delivery machines and to accentuate the theme running throughout her work: life is always better with a bit of love in it.
With Daniel's fourth and newest play, Helen On Wheels, she has taken a different road to the same well—and, in doing so, has created her finest play to date. Having only seen the second act of the show, I can't comment on how it flows from scene to scene or on the consistency of the performances, but one thing is certain: it has a metric ton of heart.
The most obvious difference between Helen on Wheels and Daniel's previous work is the change of locale and character types. "This is my first play that ever started with a title," local playwright Daniels tells me, "So I had Helen On Wheels and I thought, 'who's Helen?' Of course, I wanted to go straight to New York, you know, back East, that's my wheelhouse. I feel most comfortable writing young, edgy characters back East and I couldn't just deny the fact that Helen On Wheels had to be a gun toting, whiskey drinking grannie and so I had to reach for it. It was out of my comfort zone."
In taking those steps outside of her comfort zone, Daniel created a world worth spending time in. The dramatic moments are earned and the jokes come from genuine character behavior instead of a "set 'em up and knock 'em down" style of comedic playwriting.
As she attempts to break out into the national theater scene Daniels said being a female in a male-dominated playwright field can present some stereotyping challenges. "The biggest obstruction for me is that I'm an unknown playwright. But I've won a couple of festivals, I've gone to some conferences and what I'm learning is it's definitely harder. For some reason theaters think male writers can write better plays. A lot of female playwrights are just using their initials because when the script gets to the theater they don't know if it's a male or a female."
Those are not problems Daniel faces locally, however. Each of her shows has been produced at 2nd Street Theater and she is set as its in-house playwright with a slot each season to accommodate her newest work. It's a nice spot to be in and with the smash success of her first show, "Couple Dating," it would be easy to rest on her laurels and churn out similar, audience tested work. But it is obvious that she would rather follow what she finds funny than repeating a formula.
"I think 'Helen On Wheels' might be my best one to date...until my next one!" Daniel says with a laugh.
Helen On Wheels
March 28-April 14
2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette
$16-19, Tickets at 2ndstreettheater.com