Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Theatre Droppings: Big Brother and Wee Thomas

I freely confess that I have never been a fan of Orwell's futuristic novel 1984, having been forced to read it in high school. I'm not a fan of anything I was forced to do in high school. Actually, all I remember were those omnipresent television screens, in every corner of every room. I did a lot of things in high school I didn't want anybody else watching, so the idea of those screens gave me the creeps. Ironic, considering nowadays, we spend so many hours of our day peering into screens...

I caught the Catalyst Theatre revival of their adaptation of Orwell's novel, and I still find those screens creepy. Kudos to director Jim Petosa for that, because the screens are never even seen onstage. But when the booming voice of James Konicek interrupts the action onstage with the latest propaganda, and the actors look out into the audience to view the telescreens, we see them too. In fact, the sound design of this production is really the starring character, taking nothing away from the strong work being done by the actors.

It took about 25 more years, but Orwell's vision of Big Brother always watching us via technology has actually come to pass, with much of our everyday lives now under surveillance. So I suppose Orwell is to be commended for his insight. But I confess that I always preferred his examination of communism, Animal Farm:

All animals are created equal.
Some animals are more equal than others.

A couple of weeks after I saw 1984, I popped over to Signature to see their regional premiere of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. This might be the most hilarious show currently onstage in DC, as well as the ickiest. You've never seen so much blood, so many corpses, so many...um...unaesthesticized amputations. Lots of feline fur is flying, too, as the catalyst for this sly examination of terrorism's ruthless inefficiency is a decapitated cat named Wee Thomas. Oh, my goodness. Director Jeremy Skidmore, who in the past occasionally appeared onstage (I played with him in Thief River many moons ago) has really come into his own as a director of substance. I've already written about his Ambition Facing West last season. Here, he is able to wring every laugh out of this gruesome tale, and somehow make every despicable character in the play likeable.

...or at least understandable.

Jeremy cast his show extremely well, beginning with the terrorist at the center of the action, played by Karl Miller. I've been a fan of Miller's since I first saw him sweep down the loading platform at the Clark Street Playhouse in The Maids. In full drag, he completely mesmerized the audience with a ten minute monologue in French. He's matured since then, and is a steely but appealing leading man. He has his hands full in his first appearance in the play, as his partner in the scene is hanging upside down by his ankles, with blood dripping from his feet, and torture devices clamped to his nipples. Talk about upstaging! It wasn't until this poor sod was finally released and up-righted that I saw it was Jason Stiles, who surely is playing the most physically challenging role of anybody's career. Really, while hanging upside down for 10-15 minutes, Jason still hit every character nuance, every moment in the scene. He even got laughs.

Everybody in the show is outstanding, including a real find, Michael McGloin, as the long-haired local boyo sucked into a nightmare. I have not seen McGloin's work before, though his bio reveals substantial local credits. He's one to watch.

Other than McGloin, I had seen all the other performers in other projects except Casie Platt, the lone actress in the cast. Or at least, I thought I'd never seen her before. I never read cast bios until after the performance, so I was sure she was another newbie to me. Not so; I actually saw her in a tricky little play at Catalyst a while back, portraying a mixed-up kid with a fetish for pyrotechnics, called The House is Falling Down, Call Justin Timberlake. OK, that wasn't the actual title, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I absolutely love it when I think someone is brand new to me, and I discover I enjoyed the actor in a previous endeavor, but did not recognize it.

That's a good actor. And this show is full of 'em.