Three interesting shows opened last weekend, and they all deal with dark material - heinous family dysfunction and the exploration of morality - but all three manage to give the audience reprieves in the form of a few good laughs. PIG
The Alley Theatre
Directed by Michelle Kelley
and Brent Wooldridge
Through July 2
First on my hit list was PIG, an in-house production by The Alley Theatre. It is about a family of Bud-drinkin', GPC-chain-smokin' people who are - there's no better way to put it - fucked up. This family is Jerry Springer fodder.
Set the day before Labor Day, 1990 (right before the Gulf War), the Robinsons discover that their estranged son is coming home from the Navy for a visit. Turns out Jason left home after attempting to kill his father. Once you get to know the dad, Jack, you understand why. Jack, an ex-military man who is obsessed with his long-ago crossing of the equator, fears he is losing control of his family because his arthritis no longer lets him make a fist. Jason is coming home to settle his demons, one way or another.
Jonny Dumser as Jason has the mad gleam of a psycho down pat. His eyes reflect the constant turmoil that roils within Jason's brain. John Mercer and Julie Dutcher as Dad and Mom are excellent in their simplicity - these are people who have dug in just to accomplish survival, and esoteric things like multiculturalism and coming to terms with past mistakes are alien concepts. Amanda Craig, Ashley Hamman and Anna Marie Hughes as Jason's siblings fill in the picture of a family gone wrong with their own issues, which are fleshed out just enough to let the audience know that Jason isn't an anomaly. Linda Grow and Tom Danz fill in as a cute aunt and uncle, while Derek Wilham, as neighbor Santos, plays a strange part - he seems to exist only so the family can exhibit their ignorance, but remains as the drama plays out. Wilham handles himself well, but the presence of his character when the proverbial shit hits the fan seems extraneous.
Co-directors Michelle Kelley and Brent Wooldridge keep the action tight. While you laugh at the foolishness of the family, you also feel pity for them. The set, by Bruce Kelley, a marvelous white trash backyard, lets us know from the start what we are getting into, and sound by Jim LaMonte, especially the ambient night noises, are a realistic touch.
PIG continues at The Alley, 1716 N. Illinois St., through July 2. Tickets are $15 and the show is for mature audiences only. Call 926-8888.
The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer
ShadowApe Theatre Company
Through June 26
In 'The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer,' one of the images that haunts Oppenheimer is that of "kimono burns," another is the woman (his mother?) missing three fingers. In this photograph, used during the show, Jennifer Bohler represents both.
The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a magical delving into the Manhattan Project, and its effects on the people involved. Humanity is emphasized here, as well as morality and consequence, and the glory of discovery. This is a difficult mixed bag.
Oppenheimer, played by Robert K. Johansen, is the focus of the play. Even when fission is just a theoretical concept, the voice of Lillith (Constance Macy) begins to speak to him. Here Lillith, the mythological first wife of Adam according to the Jews, is portrayed in all her demon glory as the eater of babies and a lover of all things destructive.
Love Song is a complex show - a term paper could easily be written on the metaphors, parallels, etc. that it explores. Several viewings would be advantageous to anyone who wants to grasp the multitude of images it suggests. Without this luxury, what I can tell you is that on first viewing the most satisfying element is its humanity - Oppenheimer's drive to create as well as his later regrets are explained in such a way that the audience can understand why a man would invent such an implement of destruction, and then later spearhead a movement to stifle its use.
Again, ShadowApe reaches the pinnacle of performance with its actors, sets and lighting. Johansen is a sympathetic Oppenheimer, while Macy, as the dreadlocked Lillith, is the voice of truth that we so often want to deny. Playing multiple parts are Bennett Ayres, Jennifer Bohler, Charles Goad and Robert Neal, in characters that span the hilariously caricatured to the long-suffering.
Robert and Ryan Koharchik designed the set and lights, respectively. The giant sandbox that serves as the floor is used as scene, prop and metaphor, and the lighting is breathtaking. Michael Lamirand's soundscape is an integral element. Video/slide projection is subtle and effective. Costuming, especially Lillith's, by Wendy Meaden, is spot-on.
A thorough knowledge of the people involved in the atomic project isn't necessary, but helpful. A basic background regarding Oppenheimer is given, and he is the key here. But even if you are only familiar with the horror stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the play will not only explain, but deepen a human interest in the splitting of the atom, and how it changed humanity.
The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer continues at Butler University's Lilly Studio Theatre through June 26. Tickets are $20; ages 14-22 $10. Call 926-5212 for reservations (cash and check payment only).
Lizzie Borden: The Musical
Theatre on the Square
Directed by Ron Spencer
Through July 16
Catherine Vaughn Mobley is reprising her award-winning portrayal of Lizzie Borden for Theatre on the Square's presentation of Lizzie Borden: The Musical. She last appeared as Lizzie in 2001 at Buck Creek Players, where she won Best Actress and Best Singer awards. Seeing her at TOTS, you can understand why she garnered those accolades. Mobley's strong, true voice carries throughout the show and her cool persona makes you question her innocence (even if the show plays out a theory that would in fact make her - mostly - innocent).
Her performance makes up for rather muddied ensemble numbers. Supporting singers that show their mettle include work by Theresa Koleszar as the maid Bridget and Michael Moyer as handyman Robert.
The set was mostly made up of sliding panels that gave the impression of elevator doors opening and closing, and stage hands would come onto the stage to move props before the screens closed, so the panels' point was somewhat lost. However, period costuming was nice, by Liz Sanders and Chris Arthur.
Mobley is the reason to see this production. Lizzie Borden: The Musical continues through July 16 at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave. Call 685-TOTS for tickets, $20; $17 for students and seniors.