Monday, June 6, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Call of the Wild

Sleeping Weazel Productions has turned its attention to THE BIRDS AND THE BEES for a festival of three new plays through June 11th. The first, by Kate Snodgrass, is THE LAST BARK, directed by Melia Bensussen. What better muse is there, I ask you, than Steven Barkhimer?

Not so long ago, the entire theater community was shocked to learn of his emergency heart surgery, and was much relieved to have him back. Playwright Kate Snodgrass was prompted to write and perform in a play starring Barkhimer, based on his brush with mortality.

Now she’s written another about mortality, but this time it’s all of us who will perish, in three days when a comet mows us down. Snodgrass plays a therapist. Barkhimer plays an insecure actor (Is there any other kind?) riddled with doubts about his artistic contributions to the world. She reassures him, he knocks off a little Falstaff (!) and they face the unknown together. It’s a sweet and funny valentine to one of the most prolific and talented artists in Boston.

The two remaining plays in the evening are absurdist exercises. The more cogent of the two is Charlotte Meehan’s BEESUS & BALLUSTRADA in which two unlikely creatures, caretakers of squirrels and birds — and evidently the last humans left on earth (or maybe the first two), become a wild and wooly Adam and Eve: Humiliation, violence and thunderstorms are foreplay for these two.

 Cliff Odle as a posturing, grass covered Beesus isn’t so sure he wants to join up with Karen MacDonald’s bizarre Ballustrada because, as he knows full well, “people are trouble.” Ballustrada gives him ample reason to hesitate: One minute she’s a flirty coquette and the next she’s a harridan. Their antics are a bit repetitive (especially the mixed media portion) but Meehan is fortunate to have director Melia Bensussen and two superb actors to turn “a mild entertainment” into illuminating flesh and blood.

Adara Meyers’ BIRDS, alas, is a jumble of images which elude perception. When Vaclav Havel embraced theater of the absurd to indict totalitarianism, the penalty was prison. When Beckett uses absurd imagery, the dread is palpable. There isn’t anything at stake in Meyers’ strange send-up of an “American Institute for Stress” — if that’s indeed her target. If it were a stand-in for Scientology or the government, I could make a connection. I didn’t see any.

BIRDS starts off with promise with a young birder, a “citizen-scientist,” (an intense Alexander Rankine) tracking the sudden demise of pigeons in the park. We see countless dead birds overhead, hanging upside down, in mid-flight extinction. OK, I thought, Meyers’ play is about the deleterious effects of pesticides or global warming. (By the by, where were the bee trackers since BEES are in the title of the festival for heavens sake!) But no, the bird counting is quickly abandoned and we follow Rankine and his girlfriend (a quirky Julia Alvarez) to the Institute for Stress where violence is the main course of study.

Cruelty at the institute is taught to perfection by Professor Steven Barkhimer. Student automatons tie themselves up with scotch tape (not red tape?) and regurgitate the party line. To what end? I haven’t a clue. This entry eluded me entirely — and I like theater of the absurd.