Review: Apocalypso (Point of Contention Theatre)

Fractured tales of Armageddon

 

Apocalypso - Point of Contention Theatre

   
Point of Contention Theatre presents
   
Apocalyso
   
Written by William Donnelly
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through October 2nd   |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It must be getting close to another pivotal prediction time in the history of humankind. Apocalypso is rife with hints of New Age philosophy, 20-something aimlessness, and Generation X hitting the wall. Yes, 2012 looms and there is hair in the Cocoa Puffs. I would not quite call this play by William Donnelly a comedy as it is billed. There are some funny lines but this is more of a post-millennial musing of the Absurd.

The Point of Contention Theatre Company is known for breakneck dialogue, seamless direction, and quirky expressionistic takes on reality. I have to say that Apocalypso doesn’t quite nail the mark as well as past works like The Wonder (our review ★★★½) or Vanishing Points. (our review ★★★)

To be clear, there are some fine performances in this play, but the action and the narrative don’t flow that well. Apocalypso is set during the holiday season between Christmas and New Years’ Eve in small town America. We are introduced to a washed up school janitor named Gus, getting hammered with a newly divorced Boone. Mike Rice and Zach Livingston play the roles respectively. They make fine work of portraying guys on a cheap beer bender in the Upper Peninsula. Gus stokes his drinking buddy with misogynistic remarks and manly feats of dog care while stealing none too bright Boone’s wallet. Catherina Kusch as Sherry the bartender is a standout. Kusch plays the part of a woman who accepts anything rather than being alone with a weary dignity and touch of fierceness. In the midst of the holiday binge, a derelict-looking woman appears, speaks of a message, then disappears.

Boone (Livingston) wakes up in the apartment of his friend Walt, played by Jared Nell. Mr. Livingston has a fine grasp of the broad comedy strokes of the sofa-surfing Boone who – wearing only boots, underwear and a torn bathrobe – is a site. Calling Oscar Madison!  Mr. Nell’s Walt is the unfortunate consumer of the hirsute breakfast cereal. Walt appears to be a pushover and if it quacks like a duck….you know the rest.

Into this fracas is thrown the characters of Boone’s manipulative ex-wife Gin (Heather Brodie), her ever accommodating sister Cal (Megan E. Brown), and her secretive husband Dwight, played by Tony Kaehny. I was left wondering how this could be called a comedy at all after watching the painful scene between the sisters Gin and Cal.

Gin cannot let go of Boone and calls him at ridiculous hours to request random objects like CD’s or small appliances. The sight of Walt sitting in a car holding a circa-70’s blender should have elicited a bigger laugh in my opinion. The humor was tempered by the looming angst that hangs in every scene of Apocalypso.  I should want to care about these characters but I cannot. They are so self-involved and oblivious to the meaning behind all of their existential spouting that I was hoping for an Armageddon full of endless Calypso dancing. In fact, the only character that brought levity and honesty to the play was Dora, played by Jennifer Betancourt. She appears like a vision to each character, speaking her message with evangelical zeal. Betancourt is wonderful as the possibly delusional Dora. She claims to be from the Council of Fate and Determination, sent to tell the world of the end times. Dora is darkly funny, as we all have seen someone like her on the train or a downtown street corner preaching in a filthy parka. The humor is this: perhaps they are right. They grasp onto just enough kernels of truth to make one wonder ‘what if?’ and then shake it off, inferring insanity on the messenger.

We discover that Dora is the sister of Walt and she warns him about the end of the world and the Cocoa Puffs. Walt explains that Dora is off of her meds and thought that she was indeed the Lamb of God as a child. Dora manages to inject honesty into these character’s lives by calling things as they are in the midst of listening to their mewling half steps toward honesty.

These people do not treat each other well, and normally that works as a dramatic device to push the action forward. In Apocalypso, the human cruelty just stalls the flow of the play. The marriage of Cal and Dwight is played like a soap opera with a plot of philandering and regret. By the time Cal is awakened by Dora and calls Dwight on his BS the only humor is found in an expletive and a demand for tea.

I have to say that I found Donnelly’s dialogue and theme oddly reminiscent of the novel “Nine Kinds of Naked” by Tony Vigorito. There is talk of tornadoes, allusions to synchronicity, and being reborn naked after the Rapture. Perhaps it is homage; perhaps it is a coincidence that I will allow as synchronicity.

The production’s performances are quite good. It is a disappointment, then, that the direction seems to pace the scenes in a fractured manner. Sometimes comedy is serious and sometimes it calls for broad strokes to elicit a knowing chuckle. This is a bit too serious where the material could be mined for more self-recognition. There should be at least a conga line.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
    

 Apocalypso runs through October 2nd at the Boho Theatre @ Heartland Studio. Times are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Contact www.pointofcontention.org for more information and tickets.

     
     

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REVIEW: Ozma and Harriet (Tympanic Theatre)

Grab remote control. Change channel.

 

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Tympanic Theatre Company presents
 
Ozma and Harriet
 
Written by Daniel Caffrey
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago (map)
through April 18th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Imagine a young and well-heeled family of three.  Mom is named Harriet (Cara Olansky), and she stays at home and cares for the kid, Ozma (Christopher Acevedo), while Dad, named Frank (Paul E. Martinez) dons his pristine white lab coat with determination and trots off to work, where he is perhaps one of the most respected men in the field of robotics or some similar field. Sounds idyllic enough, right?

ozma and harriet But this child is one of Dad’s lab projects and because he is an android in an early stage of development, Ozma spends most of the day in a "suspended state" (i.e. napping) leaving Mom with little to do.  And since Dad is a workaholic scientist on an analytic diet of restricted emotions, the sex is infrequent if at all. So Harriet futzes in sexual frustration and she paces back and forth and watches a lot of early 90s TV from the comfort of her couch while her marriage slowly starts to crumble.

When her boredom reaches a tipping point, she traipses over to where Ozma naps and pulls our beta-Android friend from his daydreams of electric sheep for a little light conversation and some company bathing in the educative glow of the early 90s sitcom. Educative because Ozma, though he already knows a lot, is still in the knowledge acquisition phase.  Maybe they bump once in the dark but before long there’s some inter-mechanical, borderline incest that everyone has to process as things begin to unwind.

Meanwhile, in the background of it all there’s a silent, screwball chorus of hipster-caveman-zombies who double as grips and triple as the sitcom production team as well as an off-tempo laugh track suffering from a high-pitched case of occasional hysteria.  Ozma and Harriet is at it’s best during these surreal moments when these folks, stationed in every crevice of side project’s tiny space, erupt into their fits of forced and frantic laughter, pop up from behind a couch with a manic smile, or interfere in some other way with the low-stakes, almost-incest farce playing out on stage.

Ozma and Harriet builds all of this up slowly over the course of the first act and the emotionally torqued relationship between Ozma, Harriet, and Frank helps tremendously to understand the opening moments where Ozma politely shuffles around the edges of a sexual encounter with a down-to-business, matter-of-fact call girl named Sandra (Jamie Bragg) who delivers, next to the chorus, the most well-attuned performance. Much of the second act is spent watching what happens when the ball rolls down the hill and everything goes to shit. 

26411_410308615475_185907470475_5377426_3058531_n Sitcom references and structural sitcom-mimicry heavily saturate the play, which feels like a farce trapped in the same room as the bad parts of a soap opera.  Scenes are presented with too much deference to reality – a directorial choice that makes them feel too sincerely acted (or perhaps not acted with enough of that special manic quality that makes a farce so fun to watch). The chorus works wonderfully because their silliness is always energetic, always so far beyond the real that we’ve no choice but to laugh out of surprise as well. Comparatively, Harriet and Ozma and Frank all feel a little indecisive. 

An audience needs to know when to laugh or cower, when to cry or scream in response to robot sex, murder, and, yes, the dissolution of a failed marriage.  Sure, it’s light-hearted fun – but without choices strong enough either to indicate this or make the audience forget all about it and imagine themselves within the mis-wired mind of an android, Ozma and Harriet teeters precariously on the edge of even being theater.

 
Rating:
 

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