The spirited Fresh Ink actors pour all their energy into Michael Vukadinovich’s TROG AND CLAY (An Imagined History of the Electric Chair), running through May 12th. They manage to create sparks in the L.A. writer’s quirky vaudeville about the professional and personal rivalry between the 19th century inventors Westinghouse and Edison.
The two fight over a woman, over the prevailing current (A.C. or D.C.) and they moan over their place in posterity. Westinghouse fears he’ll be remembered for the electric chair. He needn’t have fretted. He’s been guaranteed a place in our hearts for refrigeration alone. And no one connects Edison to the “chair.” (Once again, poor Nikolai Tesla has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Vukadinovich doesn’t even mention the man whose patents Edison (shall we say) borrowed.)
The clowns of the title are what electrify the play. The plot flickers (like the incandescent bulb) in fits and starts with a convoluted story about an escaped prisoner whose murdered wife understood more science than either Edison or Westinghouse...who was tricked in to a life of crime by Westinghouse’s actress/wife who is also Edison’s lover. Whew! BUT what grounds the play and gives it its humanity are the lovely characters of TROG, the philosopher, and CLAY, his beloved friend.
What impresses me most about the play are its politics. In amongst all the falderal is the notion of punishment, that it should not be “cruel and unusual.” (We’re treated to some nifty technical wizardry from Fresh Ink when the electric chair fires up.) Most of all, kudos to the playwright for his strong animal rights stance. Clay tries to rescue every dog she can find so that Edison cannot experiment on one more animal. Cameron Beaty Gosselin and Louise Hamill as Trog and Clay may be the “comic relief” in the show but they’re the heart of the play. They may be silly but they’re the souls we care about.
Director Lizette M. Morris gets fine work especially from Chris Larson as the hapless condemned, from Terrence P. Haddad as the pompous Edison, from Mickey DiLoreto as the posturing Westinghouse and from Renee Rossi Donlon as the femme fatale who drives the preposterous plot. The set is participant, too, illuminated, literally and figuratively, by Sean A. Cote’s three dozen or so vitally present, hanging bulbs.