Dance in Review

Scapegoat; Or (Why the Devil Always Loved Us) a satirical political drama now playing at the Den Theatre, takes the audience on a wild ride through a rather unusual family affair. But the play rapidly bogs down with its own complexity.

The curtain rises mid-action, and we gradually piece together that the six members of the Porter family are career politicians: patriarch Senator Anse Porter and his son, Congressman Coyote “Coy” Porter, represent Ohio as Democrats. The Senator’s Chief of Staff John Schuler is married to his daughter Leza, who is in the final weeks of her pregnancy. Matriarch Eleanor Porter and the Senator’s adopted daughter Margaret, are lobbyists for the United American Muslims.

The plot centers on the passage of a bill that would favor Christianity over other religions in the U.S. This bill is supported by Congressman Coy Porter, who is courted by the Religious Freedom Caucus, comprised of three Republican Senators: Frank Mason, Texas; Mary Colbourn, Illinois; and Perry Allen, Arizona.

Plans go awry when Congressman Porter’s father Anse, the senator, is outed as a Satanic Priest. He decides he will filibuster the bill. To dissuade him, so the bill can pass, the Religious Freedom Caucus hints they will award him a judgeship.

While it took a while to figure out what was going on, once I did, I loved the concept. And the play delivers some strong social commentary on religious freedom – a topic of great social currency. It also  scores some comedic points – Senator Porter delivers a complete Black Mass in downstage while the political drama unfolds upstage in convincingly delivered press conferences.

Jeffrey Freelon Jr. gives a strong performance as the put-upon Chief of Staff John Schuler. Likewise for Echaka Agba (Margaret), John Kelly Connolly (Frank), Barbara Figgins (Eleanor Porter), Jack McCabe (Perry), Cassidy Slaughter-Mason (Leza), Kelli Strickland (Mary) and Norm Woodel (Anse).

Scapegoat is needlessly layered, starting with its grammatically suspect title, through characters whose background and details have little bearing on the main action on stage: That Margaret is the Senator’s adopted daughter is revealed in the second act – along with the fact that she chose to keep her birth mother’s last name (so she is Okafor-Porter). So? Coy Porter is widowed, and occasionally has seizures. Um, did we need to know that? This made Evan Linder’s job playing Coy a challenge, but he rose to it.

Scapegoat is by and large a sentimental comedy. The script by Connor McNamara, a Chicago actor, brought to mind those fast-paced 1930’s screwball comedies loaded with mayhem. But the play is probably closer to You Can't Take It With You, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 Pulitzer prize-winning satire. 

There are some rich moments here: Deciding to filibuster anyway, Anse reads chapter and verse from the satanic scriptures, driving the believing Caucus senators from the chamber floor. This intelligent script which renders the political processes and dynamics with veracity, is, is fast paced and strong at its core. The direction by Kristina Valada-Viars is very well done. Scapegoat plays through May 7. www.thenewcolony.org

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 00:00

Review: The Royal Society of Antarctica

The Royal Society of Antarctica is a very unique story that comes equipped with a powerful cast and a rich blend of humor, drama and intrigue that constantly move the play forward without the interest lulls you would think would be found in a three act show with a two hour and fifty-five minute run time. Playwright Mat Smart’s world premiere takes place at the intimate Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park where its forty-something cramped seats (unless you are sitting in the first row) actually adds to the overall intimate experience. The set, though simple, creates a potent illusion of a base site interior used as cover for its workers at the bottom of the world where temperatures are always below freezing and winds can pick up to 100-plus degrees in the right circumstances. We feel cozy and warm in our seats and protected from the cold as the characters feel the same when they enter set from the outside dangerous wintry conditions.  

In The Royal Society of the Antarctica, twenty-something Dee returns to her birthplace at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica to seek answers to her mother’s suspicious disappearance that took place when she was a child. Surrounding Dee’s investigation, many characters are also focused upon with their own back stories. The team is comprised of janitors, utility technicians, scientists and food workers.  Workers are at the station for several month engagements at a time.  As one worker puts it – the first year you are there for the adventure, the second, you are there to see their friends again, the third, it’s probably for the money and if you come back for a fourth year it’s because you no longer fit in with normal society. We see the latter in the social awkwardness displayed by some of the characters. We also find some are there to run from their past.

Considered something of an untouchable holy ground due to its purity and the global agreement not to tarnish its earth by chemicals or otherwise, there is a certain magic present that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Strict rules are in place to safeguard the sanctity of the land. The sun and snow are so bright it can create a blinding effect and if a blizzard occurs, one could get permanently lost just walking twenty feet due to its zero visibility. Temperatures are so low limited skin exposure is dangerous. A hole in the ozone sits directly above them making it unsafe to remove their sunglasses for even just a minute. Daytime lasts for months followed by endless night time.  

There is a collection of strong acting performances that help in bringing this story to life headed by Paul D’Addario as “UT Tom” and Aila Peck as “Dee”. Jay Worthington is a blast to watch as “UT Tim”, the animated utility tech and team lead, while John Kelly Connolly is flawless as “Ace”, a man who has visited each continent, had sex on each continent and strives to be the first to have sex on each continent with someone native to that continent. Kyle Zornes also gets a lot of laughs with his deadpan delivery as “Jake”, the love-stricken science researcher who just can’t seem to get it right.

As Smart puts it, “I went to the bottom of the world to find this play—working as a janitor for three months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It’s perfect that it will premiere in my hometown at The Gift.”

All in all, The Royal Society of Antarctica is an entertaining experience with a distinctiveness to be remembered, opening up a new world that for most would likely go undiscovered.

The Royal Society of Antarctica is playing at The Gift Theatre through April 26th. Visit www.thegifttheatre.org for show information or call 773-283-7071    

      

*Photo - Jay Worthington (left) as UT TIm and Aila Peck as Dee                 

                                                                     

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