Sunday, April 27, 2008

All Hail Hurricane Gordo

'GORDO,’ fun--not the usual CPH fare

‘ALL HAIL HURRICANE GORDO,’ Carly Mensch’s comedy with a message, which is now on stage at The Cleveland Play House, is the kind of play that you might expect at Cleveland Public Theatre or The Bang and Clatter. It’s an off-the-wall script that needs an outlandish production and the right kind of audience to gain its bizarre level of full effect.

Not surprisingly, many of the patrons at the production I saw, seemed unmoved by the exceedingly good production they were observing. From the nerf ball basketball game that started before the play actually began, to one of the characters literally bouncing off the walls, dressed in a football helmet, knee pads and gym shorts, to the hopeful ending, audience members were either laughing hysterically or stoically sitting in silence.

The story concerns two adult brothers living on their own. As the story unfolds we find out that the duo were abandoned in a parking lot by a mother, who found herself overwhelmed by life. In order to make sure that Children’s Services does not separate them, the older brother Chaz, hides Gordo, his emotionally challenged brother, by returning the duo to their family home. Working enough to pay for basic necessities, selling off the family possessions, and living in squalor, the duo basically live as recluses. In an attempt to raise some money, Chaz decides to rent out a room. Along comes India, a teenager who has run away from her affluent family. Through her bizarre actions, she quickly brings the duo’s problems to the surface and helps bring about some semblance of resolution.

In Yiddish, the word mensch (the author’s last name) means a person of high integrity and compassion. The author imbues Chaz with those qualities. Yet, though one admires Chaz’s commitment to his brother, one can only wonder why he was willing to give up a promising tennis career and college scholarship to care-take the psychologically fragile Gordo.

The play abounds with questions. Is it possible to be your brother's keeper and have a life too? What is really behind Chaz’s obsessive letter writing? Why does Gordo have outbursts where he slams his head into the wall? Are his outbreaks an illness or a device to keep his brother bound to him?

Carly Mensch is a promising playwright. This script, which received rave reviews at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, puts her in the class of Craig Wright (‘ORANGE FLOWER WATER’ which received an amazing staging at Akron’s Bang and Clatter earlier this year) and Neil LaBute, whose ‘THIS IS HOW IT GOES,’ is presently on stage at Cleveland’s newest theatre, Bang and Clatter.

Mensch has a wonderful way with words and visual images. In ‘GORDO,’ she weaves a play about family responsibility and dependency, with an uncomplicated format that evokes laughs about a subject which, on the surface, is not funny. However, if she had made this into a drama, it could have been emotionally overwhelming. Being able to laugh at the painful is often the best way to approach certain subjects. It’s the same device LaBute used in his enthralling ‘FAT PIG.’

The play encourages audience members to think about our responsibilities to our loved ones and how they may conflict with our responsibilities to ourselves.

The CPH production, under the adept direction of Sean Daniels, is excellent. The cast is uniformly fine. As Gordo, Patrick James Lynch is a perfect boy/man. He develops a character that carefully balances his being sympathetic, yet infuriating.

Matthew Dellapina, who has the physical air of the stereotypical nerd, capably makes Chaz a caretaker and enabler who has given his life for his brother.

Tracee Chimo nicely develops India, the potential housemate, into a spoiled teenager, who is both wise and unwise.

William McNulty’s Oscar, India’s father, clearly displays the frustration of being the father of a teenage girl.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘ALL HAIL HURRICANE GORDO’ is the kind of play that audience members will either love or question why they attended. I loved it. It was a departure from the usual Play House script and I appreciate their going out on a limb to expand their offerings. Maybe picking scripts like this will encourage a younger audience to attend.