BWW Reviews: The Catastrophic Theatre's THE PINE - A Modern Take on Purgatory
Playwright Mickle Maher is a favorite of both The Catastrophic Theatre and Houston audiences. Their productions of THE STRANGERER, SPIRITS TO ENFORCE, and both prsentations of THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS garnered positive responses from audiences and critics alike. At last night's premiere performance of THE PINE, the regulars at The Catastrophic Theatre couldn't get enough of the zany new play. I, on the other hand, was left completely befuddled and entirely lost. The play, told entirely in verse, seems to be a modern quasi-adaptation of Dante Alighieri's Purgatorio that exists at a crossroads between existentialism and absurdist theatre; however, it lacks the meaty, weighty observations about life found in existentialism and observations about society in absurdist theatre.
In the three books of Dante's Divine Comedy, Beatrice is Dante's muse and salvation. He journeys through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise for her. In many ways, Mickle Maher's Gordon, the owner of a decrepit hotel on the shores of Lake Michigan, is like the intrepid Dante. His Beatrice is a piano teacher named Danelle. One year after her suicide, a forlorn Gordon takes the same red pills she did in an effort to reunite with her. Gordon finds himself in a ghostly purgatory of stasis where all time has no meaning. He is ensconced in a ethereal hotel that is a labyrinth of rooms, people, demons, darkness, grief, misery, and sorrow. He is instantly charged with recovering Danelle from this haunted purgatory that exists between life and death, and takes on the quest. Aiding him on the journey is a fly, a book Danelle asked him to read but he never did, a pair of gardening sheers gifted to him by his neighbor Steve (who is also death), and Morris, a Battle of Hastings knight that followed his cat through an enchanted cat door and ended up in the hotel as well.
While I didn't find the script to be all that enthralling or funny, I did rather enjoy how Jason Nodler staged the piece. Doors and stairs, often used for exits, can be used to lead a member of the cast right back onto the central portion of the stage, giving a whimsical and mystifying element to the production. Likewise, he has coached the cast to embrace the uniqueness of the play, and most deliver characters that appear to be fully realized, even though I don't quite grasp the meaning of the play itself.
Of the cast, my favorite character was Greg Dean's Morris, known as Morris the Hesitant. Upon first meeting the brash knight he comes across with a heavy bravado. Yet, when called to action he hesitates and is rather indecisive. Greg Dean appears to have fun bringing life to his character's hefty foible and makes Morris an unlikely and comical sidekick. THE PINE only elicited a few small chuckles from me, all of which were brought on by Greg Dean's characterization. However, from other members of the audience, Greg Dean's portrayal of the character earned many riotous and hearty guffaws.
Playing Gordon, Troy Schulze creates a totally nondescript, almost nerdy everyman. He reluctantly becomes the hero of the production and initially has many qualms with his quest. Over the course of the production, he grows as he releases others from their grief and misery.
Amy Bruce's flatly stoic Clara narrates the show and served as the largest disconnect for me. Her delivery of her lines never moved me or interested me. Her lengthy opening monologue of exposition sets the tone for the whole play, letting us know we were in for a long night. While the script and the direction encourage and support her apparent lack of enthusiasm, I found it to be almost unbearable.
Completing the cast, Shanon Adams, Miranda Herbert Aston, George Brock, Noel Bowers, John Dunn, Patricia Duran, ChristIan Holmes, Jessica Janes, Jeff Miller, Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers, and the voice of Abraham Zeus Zapata flit in and out of the story, some of them playing multiple characters. They fully commit to their strange characters, bringing life to the Mickle Maher's words.