An Elephant’s Eye Theatre Company
Imagine a two-hundred page book strewn all over the floor, and you have to pick it up and put it in order, but you discover the pages are not numbered. The result could be either chaotic or a triumph in discovery, depending on the result. Chris Conry's new play is a little like that for the audience, who has to try to make heads or tails of the events, which actors are doing what, which character they are playing at what time, and where the story is going.
Just to clarify, the Joe Whyte in the title is a character who wrote a play called Nebraskaoblivion, no doubt because the space bar didn't work when he typed it or because he just didn't bother to lift the pencil when he was writing. So Conry's play is actually a play within a play, where Joe Whyte is missing, but he leaves behind the manuscript for a play he was writing in various places of his apartment (including the trash bin). His ex-girlfriend and landlady recovers the fragmented, scrawled pages and convinces the other neighbors to do the play, hoping this will bring Joe back. One problem is that the pages are often not numbered, so they sometimes have to make it up as they go along. Why this would bring Joe back is not clear, but in a play where borderline surrealism and juxtapositioned time is the norm, anything is possible. The play begins with the landlady explaining apologetically to the audience that they are going to put on this play, and swears everyone to silence - in case Joe Whyte is there. She makes it very clear that the pages were scrambled at times and that it was difficult for them to follow the sequence.
Be ready to jump back and forth from 1973 to about 1999, and back again, although crudely scrawled placards occasionally held up the actors sort of lead us into the time frame. There is even a scene in outer space, where two people ride a car into the galaxies, perhaps a metaphor exemplifying the goals of the people involved in the story. The rest is somewhat more grounded and since the whole thing is set in Nebraska, you can't get more grounded than that!
Abby Miller Brian Lucas
As Joe Whyte's play opens, a young couple (in 1973), is arguing over money, her getting a job (at $ 3.35 an hour) and him digging a hole in the back yard to make a pool. When it jumps forward to 1999 there are two young men (twins) arguing over money - one is a hard working, responsible son trying to help his mother keep the house, and the other sits around philosophizing about the evils of life, and all things spiritual, but is definitely not ready to work. He is actually considering going to Chiapas, Mexico to join an insurrection movement that is protesting the government.
There is a girl who has a relationship with the hardworking brother, and even wants to marry him, but he is not ready for commitment and seems intimidated by her wealthy and powerful background. We later discover this girl has some political influence and by some unusual stretch, there is a connection between the corn farmers of Nebraska and the Chiapas crisis, and her intervention with a senator could make a difference in the conflict, and even in her boyfriends family, as the mother works for a conglomerate that will be affected by an agreement over corn, chemicals and other politics.
Erika Lenhart - Nate Walker - Ryan Bergmann
If you've lost track of the plot line by now, don't feel left out. Many in the audience were just as confused, but lucky for all, Joe Whyte, (or maybe Conry) manages to write an ending that clarifies the entire play - and is about as compelling and tense and you ever want to get. Issues of intimacy, morality and self-discovery suddenly become clear, and you're glad you sat through the maze of sub-plots because the payoff is well worth the wait. The surprising revelation about the twins' backgound puts the capper on a plot twist that borders on genius. Suffice it to say that Joe Whyte doesn't come back, but his characters become embroiled in a terrorist event of major proportions - hinting that maybe Whyte's play was autobiographical, hence the reason for his sudden disappearance.
If you're into the technical and organic of theatre, you'll find this production a classic case of Theatre D'Garbage, as the stage is strewn with assorted props, broken chairs, kitchen tables, rickety door frames and an old suitcase, all of which become different things in the deft hands of the players. Mostly dark and shadowy, a light beam pierces through at the right times, bringing a small area into focus, and then zooms to another corner to catapulp us back into another scene and often another time frame.
For an opening production, An Elephant’s Eye Theatre Company is taking a chance with such a quirky off-the-wall production that demands so much from an audience. But since they pulled it off brilliantly, they may have dug themselves a hole, because from now on we're going to expect nothing less, and in fact even better fare. That may be a tough demand for a bunch of corn-huskers to meet, especially in the big city where actors and playwrights are chewed up and spit out more often than tobacco in a baseball game.
Then again, wasn't there some guy on TV named something or other Carson, from Nebraska, who did fairly well?
Comments? Write to us at: Letters@ReviewPlays.com
Jake Jarvi, makes his Los Angeles stage directing debut. The cast includes: Ryan Bergmann, Erika Lenhart, Brian Lucas, Abby Miller and Nate Walker.
BY: Chris Conry
PRESENTED BY: An Elephant’s Eye Theatre Company
DIRECTED BY: Jake Jarvi
SOUND DESIGN: Ben T. Getting
COSTUME DESIGN: Sean Decou
WHERE: The Complex
6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
WHEN: Opening: Thursday May 20th
Running: Thursday, Friday and Saturday Nights @ 8:00pm
Sunday Nights @ 7:00pm
Closing: Sunday June 6th.
TICKETS: $15 Thursday through Saturday
Sundays-Pay What You Can
RESERVATIONS: (310) 562-2968