Successful adaptations are few and far between, but it's hard to argue against the impulse. There's that famous play based on Arthur Brooke's poem "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet," or, more recently, Sam Raimi's quirky yet universal take on "Spiderman." Now Atlanta's Sensurround Stagings is presenting its adaptation of Katherine Dunn's cult novel "Geek Love."
Published in 1983, "Geek Love" is the saga of Binewski's Fabulon, a traveling carnival that stars the Binewski children themselves. All are the products of an ambitious breeding program devised by patriarch Aloysius (Tim Cordier) to revive the Fabulon's faltering ticket sales. Determined to create extraordinary children, matriarch Crystal Lil (Josie Burgin Lawson) ingests insecticides and any other potential mutagenic substance that Al can procure. The narrator, an albino dwarf named Olympia (Anessa Ramsey), describes the take-no-prisoners sibling rivalry between the Binewski children.
A good adaptation gives the audience a hook that's emotionally involving and relatively straightforward. Adapters Aileen Loy and Mike Katinsky have been unable to locate this hook. The Binewksi's demise is reminiscent of the fall of the House of Atreus, with its gleeful and tragic excursions into patricide, incest, and the supernatural. Incident abounds, but Aeschylus knew to dedicate time to his character's inner lives amidst the mayhem, a strategy that Ms. Loy and Mr. Katinsky don't successfully employ. They do make use of many theatrical devices (including Chris Brown's creepy prosthetics), but do so only to slavishly recite Ms. Dunn's baroque prose: an inherently nondramatic strategy.
Ms. Loy's staging, while full of invention, is too busy and unfocused. Ms. Ramsey looks the part and possesses an adequately dry delivery, but is unable to supply the gravitas needed to make her character more than a convenient device. In the novel, Olympia is impenetrable, and Ms. Dunn holds her accountable for her actions (think Iago); Ms. Loy and Mr. Katinsky present her as an innocent bystander. They even add a schmaltzy coda that denies the novel's adamant refusal to be ingratiating.
Jeffrey Zwartjes is sweetly seductive as the tyrannical older brother Arturo. Ms. Burgin Lawson gives a nuanced performance as the idealistic and unhinged Lil. Somewhat making up for her adapting, Ms. Loy gives an exceptionally strange and exciting performance as the unscrupulous and twisted Doc P.
- Jose Zayas, co-producer, INTAR's New Works Lab; director, 'I'm With Mauricio'
THE PUFFIN ROOM
Ron sits in a booth, inches away from a microphone. Two beeps and a few bars of a jingle are heard. He reads some copy aloud: "Ever have one of those days?" So begins a radio spot for Chester's, an Applebee's-esque restaurant chain, the recording session for which is the setting of Chris Earle's darkly trenchant play "Radio 30." Like Nicholson Baker's "The Mezzanine," in which a lifetime's observations are made during an escalator ride, Ron has "one of those days," with wickedly funny, unexpectedly moving results.
Between takes, Ron muses on his career ("My vocal quality is warm. Sincere. 'A trusted friend'. ... I'd rather be really good at something stupid than really lousy at something important.") Mike, the sound engineer, gives Ron notes: "quirky," "wry," "a little more smile." Blandly affable and slightly guarded, Ron tells us he applies such notes to his daily life, adding "smile" into phone conversations with his mother so she won't worry.
The play nails actors' professional glibness: Ron chirps "Cool!" after takes, calls Mike "sir," cracks cringe-worthy industry in-jokes, then relays a sad anecdote of an older voiceover actor's breakdown. He noodles into his mic, imitating a swing band, howling wind, and, portentously, HAL's meltdown from "2001: A Space Odyssey." As the session unfolds, Ron tells us the story of how he slept with his best friend's wife a year ago, destroying his friendship with the couple. Haunted and grief-stricken, he starts blowing takes, unsure how to pronounce the word "food," psyching himself out, crumpling and eventually imploding.
Mr. Earle, a Toronto-based Second City alum, handles his role's emotional and technical demands with a surgeon's precision. He and Robert Smith (who plays Mike offstage) share an impressively winning chemistry; Shari Hollett's direction is a master-class in timing and pitch. The script, winner of several Canadian awards, repeats key phrases to elegantly underscore Ron's ruminative loneliness. It flips us from schadenfreude to sympathy like burgers on the grill at Chester's. Hurry - it's available for a limited time only.
- Colleen Werthmann, actor, 'Light Raise the Roof,' 'Suitcase,' 'Recent Tragic Events'
YOU'LL HAVE HAD YOUR HOLE
The fact that Irvine Welsh wrote "Trainspotting" suggests that his play "You'll Have Had Your Hole" would be a taut evening of well-paced, invigorating theater. The audience gets something a bit different.
Set in an old recording studio and a flat somewhere in Scotland, the play tells the story of Dex, a purportedly vicious, emotionless hit man (played a babyfaced Zack Calhoon) who strikes fear not only in his colleagues but also in his girlfriend. He is kidnapped and slowly tortured by Docksey (Mac Brydon) and Jinks (Ian Pfister) for reasons that never quite become clear.
Meanwhile, Dex's girlfriend, Laney (Thea McCartan), sits at home thinking she's been abandoned by her inconstant love. Through a ruse, Docksey fools Laney into thinking that he's Dex's friend. Somehow, inexplicably, they fall in love. Docksey eventually "has his hole" - that is to say, he has sex with Laney after a series of contrived, mildly misogynistic seduction scenes. Back at the studio, Jinks uses hand shackles, a ball gag, a pair of scissors, a kilt, and boxing gloves to get his hole, too - that is to say, he rapes Dex after a series of torture scenes involving various costume changes that don't really elucidate anything.
Never mind that Jinks is HIV-positive. Never mind that Docksey improbably keeps leaving Laney, rejoining Jinks in the studio to pop pills, snort coke, and taunt Dex with the imminent getting of his girlfriend's hole. Is the point that each man has his hole? Is Mr. Welsh suggesting that in order to be "whole" you have to have a "hole?" It's disappointing that we never quite see why we should care about these people or what happens to them.
The production seems hindered by Francis Kuzler's direction. In his hands, this group of promising young actors fights valiantly to the show's abrupt non-ending. But everyone involved has managed to obfuscate the most potentially interesting and dangerously charged relationship in the play: the one between Jinks and Docksey. Only in this pairing do we see a potentially compelling dynamic.
The show leaves us with the old story. Kidnappers get boy. Girl loses boy. Hit man gets girl. Gay hit man gets girl's boy by force.
- Sean Dugan, actor, 'Valhalla,' 'Flesh and Blood,' 'Henry IV'
THE JAMMER - A ROLLER DERBY LOVE STORY
THE PLAYERS THEATER
One of the great American playwrights of the 1980s was Eric Overmyer, whose work co-opted the idiomatic wordplay of radio DJs, Victorian lady travelers, and conspiracy theorists to define a new theatrical landscape. Sadly, Mr. Overmyer has abandoned the theater to toil for television, but a successor in the world of quirky, language driven phantasmagorias has arrived, as announced by "The Jammer - A Roller Derby Love Story" by the wildly talented writer Rolin Jones.
Mr. Jones's rollicking tale concerns a devout young Catholic named Jack Lovington (a charming Kevin Rich) who chases dreams of roller-derby glory. He leaves his dubious priest, Father Kosciusko (a droll James Lloyd Reynolds), and an unseen fiancee. Our hero joins a roller-derby tour led by conniving huckster Lenny Ringle (an appropriately oily Billy Eugene Jones) and populated by a group of whacked-out misfits any sports film would be proud of.
This "Candide"-meets-"Slap Shot" tale twists and turns in a sort of anti-Norman Rockwell America ("We're in Pittsburgh, Father, it's great!" cries Lovington in a call home) where youthful dreams are always too good to be true. The derby is fixed, of course, and so is the romance Ringle has arranged with psychiatric patient Lindy Batello (a funny and strangely moving Jeannine Serralles) to keep Jack in the derby.
Played in a style that might be described as vocally energetic baroque mayhem, this cast of recent Yale grads executes the piece with gusto, ably assisted by Anne Kenney's clever clothes. Peter Macon is particularly effective as a brutal skater and smiling doctor; the scene where he treats Jack for a variety of newly acquired STDs is all one might wish it were.
Staged with ingenuity by fellow Yale grad Greg Felden, an extended final scene that takes place on Coney Island's famous Cyclone is a dramatic marvel of structure and execution, revealing the loneliness and perils of adventure-seeking. Mr. Jones cleverly buries the point in his sprawling comedy.
There is a poignancy and resolve to Jack's Catholicism, which few writers might dare acknowledge. In a culture of cynicism, faith and sincerity are the really radical ideas. "The Jammer" has both in abundance - and a lot of laughs.
- Carl Forsman, artistic director, Keen Co.; director, 'The Happy Journey to Camden and Trenton'
THE CONNELLY CENTER
'Rapunzel," an energetic musical comedy presented by the Bucks County Academy of the Performing Arts, is an earnest attempt to revive a well-known fable. Rapunzel is trapped in a tower by a witch who wanted a daughter, and is rescued by a Prince who hears her sing. When caught escaping, the Prince is temporarily blinded, and Rapunzel is banished to a forest patrolled by goblins. The Prince does not give up; he finds Rapunzel, who has borne him children despite threats from the witch.
The show has been staged by a troupe of high school and college students who have been encouraged by BCAPA to explore their love of the theatre. It is designed for children and adults. Eric Stedman's lyrics infuse the piece with playful psychology. Depressed Rapunzel (Melanie Walters) sings "the walls are closing in on me" and a hag named "Gothel" (Shannon Turner) shrieks and cackles her bitter views about men.
Through simple set pieces and patched-together costumes, we travel from the familiar scene of Rapunzel in her tower on an epic journey through a goblin-infested forest. The tower itself is the highlight of the piece: Directors Sara Accardi and Laura Bowman use a simple wall to great comic effect. Characters climb into view or drop to the ground below, putting our imaginations to work.
Ms. Accardi and Ms. Bowman toy with simultaneous action to move the story along. At times, this spins into my least favorite aspect of children's theater, "the run-around" (actors dashing wildly on stage leaving us feeling immobile in our seats). This chaotic storytelling tries to convey too much information, even for an audience of "all ages."
Luckily, our narrator, Pandora the cat (Lean Wintermute), focuses our attention by balancing her feline proclivities with witty commentary on the action. Though she is a common Disney type, it is from the cat's-eye view that we see how friendship can lead us out of the "forest of no return."
- Louisa Thompson, designer, 'The Distance from Here,' 'Suitcase,' '[sic]'