Saturday, June 04, 2005

Stone Cold Dead Serious (TITLEwave Theatre)

Befuddeling 'STONE COLD DEAD SERIOUS' at TITLEwave Theatre

Adam Rapp is one of the new breed of young American playwrights. He uses modern day situations, surreal ideas and often implausible plot twists and turns to create an illusion of a society under the microscope.

Rapp has been called a cross between writers Christopher Durang and Sam Shepard. But, as one critic states, “This writer of young adult sci-fi novels has neither the ingenuity of the former or the searing honesty of the latter.” Another observer states that ‘STONE COLD DEAD SERIOUS,’ the play TITLEWave Theatre is now co-producing with Cleveland Public Theatre, illustrates “one dilemma when producing new works. . .cultural ephemera quickly become clich├ęs. Problems worsen when bizarre characters combine with a stale sci-fi theme.”

This view is counter-balanced by critics, who, after seeing the same production stated, “If you’re interested in playwriting talent and want to see it muscling toward maturity, you’ll find no more fascinating example than ‘STONE COLD DEAD SERIOUS.’ Another stated, ‘STONE COLD DEAD SERIOUS’ is a gritty, funny, surreal journey through extreme psychic landscapes.”

So, what’s all the fuss about? The Ledbetters are, what has been termed in self-help psychology, as a dysfunctional family. They are definitely a group who should appear on Jerry Springer as freaks or as candidates for serious help by Dr. Phil.

Husband and father Clifford is on worker's comp, a semi-zombie skidding along on pain pills and beer. Wife Linda works overtime as a waitress, obsesses about saints and vainly tries to retain a sense of family. Daughter Shaylee has bailed out, and now lives on the street as a drug-addicted whore. The only one who has a floating glimpse of reality is brother Wynne, a computer whiz, who has managed to offset a sense of duty to this sick group with his own obsession: a Samurai-themed computer game at which he is so good he finds himself as one of three finalists invited to come to New York for a live reenactment/contest in which the winner will get $1 million. He ventures forth stopping along the way to pick up one of the other competitors, a mute girl named Sharice, with whom he has fallen in love online. What follows are some scenes which could have been left out (a hitchhiking sidetrack in which he earns $100 participating in a sex act and a visit from Snake Lady, a colorful East Village denizen who occupies the room next door). After a brutal and bloody competition there is an unclear resolution.

I found the script riddled with detours, and in the end the writer seems at a loss as to how to wrap up the whole thing.

I’m still trying to figure out what message I was supposed to carry from the play. But that may be my issue...I like plays that when they set out to teach me something, make that message clear. I’m willing to think, but not to dig and create meaning as that is the job of the playwright.

The good news for this production is that there's a lot worthwhile to see. Young Stephen Dale gives an outstanding performance as Wynne. He gets the very most out of a character which is often given lines that are both unrealistic and not well written.

Meg Kelly Schroeder, as the mother and the Snake Lady, Robert Ellis as the father and the auto driver, and Magdalyn Donnelly as the sister and girlfriend, all are quite good.

Director Gregory Vovos has paced the play well and has pointed the cast in the right direction.

‘STONE COLD DEAD SERIOUS’ is not a play for everyone. If you like pseudo/contemporary plays you’ll probably like this one. If you are a traditionalist, you will probably leave the theatre upset that you paid money to see the play. No matter, be aware that the show contains blunt language, simulated decapitation and sexual situations. Again, these are a turn-on for some and a turn-off for others.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I pass on recommending or not recommending. (Gee, does that make me like the playwright, unable to come to a clear ending?)