BWW Reviews: Gene Kato's VIRAL INFECTION is Zany and Refreshing
Modern Theatre of the Absurd is alive and very well at Obsidian Art Space, where the World Premiere of Gene Kato's VIRAL INFECTION is enjoying a glorious run. Gene Kato thought the play was un-producible and has kept it hidden away for 21 years. In a way, I'm deeply thankful. Had this play premiered 21 years ago, I wouldn't have seen it. Thus, I am happy the stars aligned justly to afford me the opportunity to see the zany, mad-cap lunacy and thoroughly refreshing thought provoking piece.
Gene Kato's writing for VIRAL INFECTION reels you in and spits you back out, often in the same breath. It is alluring and discomforting. It is hilarious and vividly poignant. It leaves you with plenty to talk and laugh about on the way home, discussing the play with whomever you saw it with. (If you go alone, I'm sure the voices in your head will chat your ear off about the piece.) The writing is superbly relevant and feels surprisingly fresh for being 21 years old. VIRAL INFECTION tells the story of delusional madness from the inside out. As the audience, we see Dexter Runyan IX's slips from reality and how his two daughters, Candice and Bibi, attempt to have him cured. No qualified doctor has satisfied their quest, so they turn to the world's two worst quack doctors, Dr. Yellowfeather and Dr. Bernie Q. Feltzenhopperoptomopolitz, who both will only accept a wife as payment. Hilarity ensues from the opening music during the first black out and relentlessly keeps audiences rolling in the aisles until the very end.
Direction by Gene Kato ensures the production clips along at a rollicking speed and presents the show in all of its absurdist glory. Major themes are introduced but never analyzed, so the audience must determine meaning on their own. Therefore, everyone can take something from the show. Various social issues are introduced and explored, but their relevance and meaning within the context of the show will depend on your personal thoughts, beliefs, and the baggage you carry with you. His cast adeptly remains zany whether inside or outside of scenes of delusion; yet, there is a significant difference in the level of wacky, screwball performance that tonally separates the play's brand of reality from the delusions of Dexter Runyan IX.
Tayolor Biltoft is one of Houston's finest character actors, creating distinct personas that are infectiously funny and immensely individualized. His Jennings even comes with a quirk-laden walk that separates him and makes him distinct from any other character in the show.
Julio Alonzo's Beryl is adroitly rigid and unflinching in his service to the Runyan family, which makes him appear to be the most logical and sane character in the play. This juxtaposition adds intensity to the comedic performance, and brings down the house anytime his veneer of sanity shows a flaw.
Manically Germanic Gretchen, the maid, is perfectly played by Jackie Pender-Lovell. Her facial expressions and character's awkward gait are fabulously employed to slay the audience with zealous chortles, snickers, and loud laughs. Jackie Pender-Lovell is another example of pristine and clean character acting used to perfect affect.
As the loving and sympathetic Candice Runyan, Amanda Baird brings fantastic life to the caring daughter archetype. She is willing to sacrifice her whole being to attempt to rescue her father from illness, which even in this off the wall play is endearing and touching. She is the voice of compassion and human kindness that guides the audience through the loud laughs.
Chris Edredge portrays the delusional Dexter Runyan IX. He is wonderfully introspective in his delusions, especially during the second act, which adds a tender element to the show and intimate insight into what it is like to subconsciously and even consciously know that you are losing your mental capacities and how that must be like a death of sorts. Chris Edredge easily earns empathy and sympathy from the audience, even if his illness is what elicits hearty guffaws and plentiful peals of laughter.
As the provocative and slutty daughter, Bibi Runyan, Jamie Betik entertains with ease. She is delightfully and stereotypically domineering and self-assured, making audiences hoot and holler with laughter as she controls Thad by inflicting physical and even mental anguish. She is truly the bitch that the audience cannot help but love.
Anthony Torres' Thad could be a throw away character, but Anthony Torres infuses him with gusto and life making him just as loud a voice in the zany cacophonous absurdity and just as memorable a character. He commits to two disparate personas (as he is altered by an unreal, unexpected, and entirely enjoyable plot device in second act), making his performance just as magnetizing as any one else on the stage.
Dr. Yellowfeather, played by Jay Edenmeyer, is a simply sensational. Jay Edenmeyer has a deft sense of comic timing that brings his character to sparkling life, even if his character is an enchanting yet revolting pastiche of Native American stereotypes.
As Nookienana, Clarity Leigh Welch is impressively amusing and all together priceless. Her intonation and gauche use of Native American stereotypes is marvelously humorous.
Jason Tull is obnoxious and hysterical all at the same time with his overacted characterization of quack caricature Dr. Bernie Q. Feltzenhopperoptomopolitz. He is pristinely droll, earning a laugh a minute with his antics.
Scout Edenmeyer's stage debut as the super cute puppy is magnificent as well.
Josh T. Baker's Lighting Design is perfect for the show and cleverly uses flashing hues of every shade to separate delusion from the play's reality.
Gene Kato's Set Design works perfectly for the show, and the color test pattern with empty fames on it for the back wall looks great and completes the ideation of absurdist reality by not having a clear reason for its purpose.
Christine Weems, Deborah Blake, and the cast have done a great job accumulating and fitting costumes for the show. The pieces are sometimes just as outlandish as the characters themselves, like the pink plaid patchwork pants worn by Jason Tull.
VIRAL INFECTION is a riotous laugh a second absurdist play. To quote Jennings, "this is the most ridiculous spectacle I have ever seen," and I loved every minute of it. It is a must see for any adventurous theatergoer in Houston.
Cone Man Running Productions' World Premiere presentation of Gene Kato's VIRAL INFECTION runs through February 23, 2013 at Obsidian Art Space. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.conemanrunning.com.All photos by Christine Weems. Courtesy of Cone Man Running Productions.
l. to r. - Taylor Biltoft, Chris Eldredge, Jackie Pender-Lovell, Julio Alonzo
l. to r. - Taylor Biltoft, Clarity Welch, Jason Tull, Jackie Pender-Lovell, Amanda Baird, Jay Edenmeyer, Anthony Torres, Jamie Betik, Julio Alonzo
l. to r. - Jay Edemeyer, Chris Eldredge
l. to r. - Clarity Welch, Scout Edenmeyer
l. to r. - Jason Tull, Amanda Baird
l. to r. - Anthony Torres, Jamie Betik