2011 A Space Odyssey meets It’s A Wonderful Life in walkabout dream-time. Doors open unexpectedly, physically, metaphorically, virtually and otherwise….
Pretty, average, twenty-something Joyce has a bad case of the blah-blahs and whines about it in no uncertain terms: her job, her life, her friends, and her boyfriend Karl, especially. Average, intellectual, not too hunky Karl, also twenty-something, resents her ennui and isn’t so sure he wants to “talk about it”. But he persuades Joyce to go for an evening walk in their average middle-America neighborhood. They stumble upon a huge, strange mansion; its front door, wide open, beckons with uncanny allure. Unpretentious but full of portent, a gauzy, yin-yang phantasmagoria unfolds as they step inside.
Playwright and UT/Dallas Arts & Performance professor Thomas Riccio has directed theatre in twelve different countries as well as in respected US venues. Beyond being simply multi-cultural, his work conveys an aboriginal archetypal ambience, along with clearly drawn, commedia-like characters, charming yet edgy, bizarre yet real. blahblah emerges as the “Dead White Zombies‘ Debut Performance” at the Project X Green Zone through May 28, 2011. It earned semi-finalist status for new plays at the 2011 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, understandably.
The Project X Green Zone is more of an industrial warehouse with armless chairs on black risers and a bare lighting grid than a legitimate black box theater. Upstart Productions regularly mounts show here, where its designers overcome the warehouse ambience by executing some of the most detailed, realistic set designs in the area. As both director and set designer for blahblah, Riccio makes a minimalist statement, instead. Yards of textured white curtains draped around the three-sided perimeter of the playing space are its dominant element and create a permeable “wall” where hazy characters appear or disappear out of thin air, reinforcing the play’s motif of the thin membrane between reality and perception. Lighting effects (Justin Treece) illuminate or shade the translucent curtains, projecting patterns on them to construct visual enchantment. Sound design (Alex Worthington) compliments the ephemeral view with echo and otherworldly clatter and the calls of wild birds. A single chair, or a table bearing a doll-sized interior lit version of the mansion appear when needed, carried on/off by actors. Resplendent with vivid ideas and colorful characterizations, blahblah’s reality never feels like an empty stage in a cold, impersonal space. It bursts with imagery, concrete and fantastical.
Abel Flores. Jr. and Lori McCarty play together well as the adventuresome, out of sorts couple. Even though the odyssey leads them on different paths, they never lose awareness of one another and convey that “lived in” familiarity real couples exhibit. Glad to see Flores finally cast in a part where he gets to show dimension and growth.
Part Wolfman Jack, part predatory Lucifer, Brad Hennigan swishes about in orange and black briefs under a decadent silk dressing gown (Annell Brodeur, costumes), adding levity and menace in equal measure. 2011 Hebron High School graduate Mardi Robinson plays a spoiled, petulant, hyperactive teen-aged boy, a disaffected creature molded exclusively by pop culture values. He/she connects with emotionally remote Karl and brings out Karl’s nurturing side. Recent Chicago transplant Iknur Ozgur embraces the impotent narcissism of celebrity goddess in the transparent neediness of boozy, oversexed Simone. She reveals a sad little girl, scared and out of touch, lurking under a glitzy, exploitative, self-absorbed exterior. Welcome to Big D. Ben Miro enhances the fantastical quality of the play with his three characters; he amazes all as The Birthday Man, a unique cross between a wild-eyed, backwoods recluse and winged angel.
Petite Raquel Lydia Leal fleshes out Simone’s entourage with smarmy superficiality and finds moments of classic comic absurdity as a coat check girl with ‘tude. It’s a State Fair Fun-house full of alarming kooks, raging cranks and mirrors of the soul. Who can blame Joyce and Karl for wanting to return to a “normal” existence, if only they can find a way out…. I won’t spoil how they escape; trust me, it makes exhilarating live theater.
Through May 28 Project X Green Zone, 161 Riveredge Dr., near Industrial Blvd. and Oak Lawn