REVIEW / A SHADOW IN THE DARK / MADLAB THEATRE AND GALLERY

March 9, 2011

To better understand the format of this Review, please first read my page entitled Kate-the-Critic’s Philosophy.

NBF: 2.  Not bad! I almost made it to the end… and then my hands ended up in my mouth. I think my disengagement was mainly length related.  The show lasted a highly unnecessary 2.5 hours, but thankfully there was a 15 minute intermission. 

*: My husband is in this play. So I am biased? Well, duh. He’s my husband. And I’m also directing for these guys this month, so yeah, I’m biased. But I would also argue that I am my husband’s harshest critic. And since there is a lot more going on with this play than Mr. David Tull, let’s move on, shall we? 

 

This March, an ominous shadow is cast over MadLab Theatre and Gallery. A dark, existentialist, rather pessimistic… kinda confusing and also a bit long-winded… shadow type thing.  Sorry about that, this pitch black dramedy, the first full-length production of MadLab’s 2011 season of new, unpublished work, demands a deep yet silly introduction. Jared Latore’s A SHADOW IN THE DARK allows audiences to have a laugh while also forcing them to contemplate the meaninglessness of their existence. If you like entertainment that prompts you to do either and you have $12, please read on.

 

Simon Sermon (Stephen Woosley) is a children’s author who has the mysterious and unfortunate habit of marrying women who subsequently die within a year. The latest victim is Ann (Courtney Deuser), who now haunts Simon in his dreams. Two other-worldly beings represent Sleep and Death (Jeffrey Potts and the devastatingly handsome and charming David Tull), who guide Sermon and his new mistress, neurotic alcoholic secretary Betsy (Aran Carr) to their demise. With the help of Betsy’s psychologist roommate Caroline (Becky Horseman), Simon’s final work is published, the book that reveals the truth behind his deadly contagion.  

 

Now, although quite vague, the only reason I am able to give you this bare bones synopsis is that I saw it twice and asked my husband a barrage of questions in between performances. The play DOES feature a plot that moves us from beginning to end with an ever so slightly satisfying payoff. However, the text is often convoluted and intentionally unclear, and the many epic themes – dreams, death, sleep, love, evil – are too big in themselves, not always working together toward a common goal. Latore is rather aggressive in his desire to dramatize the meaninglessness of human existence, but adds no new insight – he merely crams in quotations from the great poets, from Byron and Shelly to Shakespeare, as well as the assertions of Freud and Jung and even the Bible, allowing these texts to do his philosophical dirty work. While he does have a knack for dialogue and rhythmic banter (which the actors don’t always pick up on in this production), it is also clear that he hasn’t developed his craft to the point where he can look at the bigger picture, strategically providing clues for the audience as the play progresses.  After working with many early career playwrights, I get the sense that this writer feared “giving too much away,” and as a result didn’t give enough away. Result?  The audience gets to laugh every once in awhile, but has no idea what the heck is going on a lot of the time.  

 

 So who the heck is this Jared Latore? A simple Google search reveals a guy who has a 2009 BA in Theatre from Missouri’s Truman State University and a world premiere of this play at the 40th Street Stage in Norfolk, Virginia… and little else.  I’m not knocking him for this. We should admire and support places like MadLab who dedicate their time to the production of new work. Without productions and audiences, young playwrights don’t get better. Unfortunately, since this playwright is getting productions, he may think he is “done” with this script. Latore could have benefited from working with MadLab on clarifying his story… and cutting the excessive amount of fat from this repetitive play (did someone say Dramaturg??).  And needless to say, MadLab could probably have benefited from choosing a stronger script to kick off their year.

 

To say the issues with this play are strictly the fault of the playwright isn’t entirely true, but these actors and their director did almost as much as they could with what they had.  Director Jennifer Feather Youngblood may not have given the audience enough visual cues to clarify the playwright’s shadowy story, but she is apt in staging dialogue-driven scenes. As the lead, Woosley suits Simon in look and attitude, but gives a sometimes two-dimensional performance that doesn’t always help us poor fools in the audience access Latore’s philosophy. Where Potts and Tull are clearly the trained actors in the group (not just because of their funny voices and specificity of movement, but because of their noticeable complexity of thought), Carr, Deuser, and Horseman fit their characters, too.  The acting is sometimes a bit lopsided, but all of the actors are invested in their production.  The script just makes everything about it sort of luke warm. Or as Betsy would say, it’s “warmer than dead.”

 

I was really into Brendan Michna’s set design. It features many red cords that snake their way into the rafters, representing both veins that pump life blood into the space around us, and IV tubes. The focal point is an upright bed that doubles as both a death bed and a coffin (Comedy!). Symmetrical projection screens hang amongst veiny muslin curtains where both scene titles and background images are displayed. The whole thing kinda looks like a torture chamber… or the set of a SAW movie. Unfortunately, the awkward and far too small trio of square platforms that line the stage make for some clumsy staging and sometimes seemingly dangerous moments for the actors.

 

I left the theater wishing this play had been produced in late October, and that I had seen it after picking apples in an orchard and carving a pumpkin. The specificity of this realization led me to believe there is in fact a target audience for this strange play. Am I said audience? Well, no. I cried at the Broadway production of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and was dancing in my seat to the point of breaking my cell phone (would I honestly lie about that?). So who is this mystery audience? Perhaps if you like black comedy, Absurdist drama, Jungian psychology, existentialist philosophy, English poetry, and/or B horror flicks, this play may be for you. It felt like… Strindberg’s DREAM PLAY meets a zombie flick. Or Halloween for Poets. A new genre!

 

For all the cons that come with this script, there are just as many pros in the MadLab experience as a whole. Their new space on North 3rd Street is charming, with high warehouse ceilings for proficiency in lighting, and a kitschy conglomeration of mismatched stadium seating for its 69 possible patrons. It’s right downtown, boasts free parking in several area lots (see their website’s parking map before heading downtown), features an art gallery in its lobby, and even provides pop, candy, and chips for a pay-what-you-can donation. MadLab is a company on the precipice of professionalism, and the artists who run it have their hearts in the right place even if their operation is sometimes unconventional. The unpaid artists who work to put their shows together deserve your support even though this particular play leaves a little to be desired.

 

This production has only 4 more performances, so be sure to check your calendar so you can see my hubby and his hard-working cast mates. It’s only $12, for goodness sake! One of the cheapest tickets in town. On the 18th and 19th, the show is followed by 3 in 30, 3 10 minute plays fitting the “shadow” motif. I’m directing the second piece, SHADOW V. MANN by Austin Steinmetz, and I have funny, adorable, actors who are ready to work hard to make you laugh.  It’s only 3 additional dollars to stay for 3 in 30, or you can wait to arrive until 10:30PM and pay $5 for the show. MadLab also does a “Bad Movie Night” on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. I have yet to participate, but it sounds like any die-hard Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan has no business missing it.

MADLAB THEATRE AND GALLERY

227 N. 3rd St.

Columbus, OH 43215

614.221.5418

www.madlab.net

Friday and Saturday nights March 18-26 at 8pm

$12 adults/$8 students/$6 members

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Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

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