Review by Tulis McCall
(20 May 2010)
Hokey Smokes Bullwinkle! Another play hits it out of the park this spring.
Okay – I just figured out that I am the only person in New York not to know Billy Crudup’s work. I confused him with someone else and now I can’t remember who. Well, that little miss-step is not over. This is one excellent actor.
And, in the case of this play he is surrounded with people every bit as good and supported by a text that makes the whole thing sail along quite quite nicely.
Tobin Falmouth (pronounced like the Massachusetts town “fol-myth”) is a writer having a not-so-good-very-bad-day that has turned into several months. He is video taping a response to his book, The Metal Children, being banned in a town way out there in Middle America called Midlothia. Truth be told he wrote the book 12 years ago and doesn’t remember a lot of it except that it deals with teenage girls who get pregnant, disappear, and are replaced with statues of themselves left on the town green.
Well, Midlothia has gotten its knickers in a twist about this book because weird things are starting to happen in the town. Life is beginning to imitate art. Tobin’s agent Bruno Binelli (David Greenspan), always on the lookout for a way to prop up a sagging career, believes the matter needs Tobin’s attention. In fact he thinks Tobin should go to Midlothia and plead his case in person. A strong letter of support is produced from a high school teacher, Stacey Kinsella (Connor Barrett). Tobin thinks there may be some free sex on the horizon and decides to go.
Upon arriving in Midlothia, the town folk begin to come out of the woodwork. Edith Dundee (Susan Blommaert) runs the motel while raising her daughter Vera (Phoebe Strole). Edith comes with bedding, advice and opinions about the goings on in the town and apologizes for the graffiti on the wall – a quote from Falmouth’s book – but a single person can only keep up with so much. Stacey appears and is, sad for Tobin, not a sexy female high school teacher, but a high strung man who has good reason to be a nervous wreck. The Christian town folk have him in their cross hairs. Last to arrive is Vera. She is one of the young women who has main-lined The Metal Children and sees her life as a creation she is setting on the altar of revolution. Part of the deal is to use her body as a vessel for procreation, and Tobin is her chosen mate. She is, like everyone in Midlothia, a combination of clinical opinions and wild emotions.
Tobin’s story is what happened if Dorothy had only wounded the Wicked Witch of the East. The Lollipop Kids here are young people with hormones and brains. There is no Wizard with a balloon. There is only a book, all but forgotten by its author, which is having a life of its own and not suffering the consequences that are violent and unpredictable.
Throughout all of this it is Crudup who holds the center in place. The other fine actors in the play are coloring like mad all over the walls. They scream and shout. They act out. They push each other around. Crudup is on the outer rim. – a challenge for any actor – and must react in a way that furthers the story. It is a balancing act of writer, director and actor that succeeds brilliantly. As the story winds itself up to a conclusion it is still Crudup that keeps the tale balanced but his position shifts and he is square in the middle of the dance floor.
This is a story that ranges around the stage, in and out of cramped spaces, like a wild animal on a mission to figure out if domesticity might be worth the bother. People are broken and beaten, redeemed and rediscovered, disappeared and defended. Although the dénouement seems a bit forced, we are all present and accounted for to bear witness. Which is what this whole story is about. Art needs people in order to exist. And visa versa. As the teenagers who are defending The Metal Children chant at the town meeting “To remove art from a culture is to pronounce that culture dead.” This play leads us into its art, and it doesn’t have to force us to drink.