BWW Reviews: DANCE OF THE WASP AND SPIDER Premieres at Capital Fringe
There are some things to like in Larry E. Blossom's newest work, Dance of the Wasp and Spider. It uses an issue that's been the focus of numerous newspaper headlines in recent years - mass shootings in public places - as a platform for exploration while wisely focusing less on the planned incident itself than the 'why.' Part mystery, part psychological thriller, it's ultimately an exploration of the makings of a tragedy and the role mental illness might play in them without coming off too much as an after school special or public service announcement. The concept is there, but it's ultimately not as successful as it could be due to some repetitive, superficial yet heavy-handed dialogue that reeks of a seasoned mental health professional rather than experienced playwright. Some uneven acting does not help the cause.
Meet the Brody's. They're a modern day American family. Husband/Father Michael (Kevin Sidenstricker) provides for the family financially-speaking but isn't the most sensitive person in dealing with his wife or children. Wife/Mother Lisa (Heather Godwin) is a stay-at-home mom trying to keep everything together on the homefront. Teenage/young adult children Haley (Emily Sucher) and Tyler (Alex Badalov) are heavily medicated to cope with their lives and struggle with their relationships with their parents to one extent or another. Neighbor Abriella (Isiadora Sasser), Haley's boyfriend Brandon (Jared Calhoun) and Tyler's friend Chris (Thomas Ashcom) get pulled into the difficulties in the Brody household when Tyler begins acting more strangely than usual after watching a gruesome video, disappears, and then reappears (with some assistance from Officer Mason, played by Peter Markey) under ambiguous circumstances.
However, before we meet the family - in a flashback - we first meet Tyler in prison as he awaits arraignment. The question is what did he do, why did he do it, and how did he get to that point?
The flashback use (as well as suspenseful sound design by Elliot Lanes) is effective to adequately explore the how/why of Tyler's swift shift from being a problematic young adult to a deranged killer. It also allows Blossom to highlight the warning signs, and illuminate the impact of his behavior on his family and, to some extent, those closest to him. However, thanks to Blossom's heavy and repetitive discussion of and references to the use of prescription solutions to depression and other mental conditions, there's never any suspense as to Blossom's conclusion as to the 'why' of Tyler's behavior, at least superficially speaking.
We get that Tyler is screwed up, but thanks to the superficial treatment of him as a character (a medicated one at that), we never really figure out what's going on in his mind. Perhaps that's meant to make a point - that we never really know everything about people who you might not expect to be killers who ultimately do the unthinkable - but from a playwriting perspective it leads to a paint-by-the numbers story of 'boy goes crazy and kills' with a lot of references to medication thrown in to remind audiences of the mental illness problem at play.
Though some of the actors rise to the occasion in telling the story, others (under the co-direction of Blossom and Suzanne Knapik) falter. Badalov is the most successful in creating a character arc in which Tyler goes from not exactly mentally healthy to one who is pretty much deranged without going for over-the-top camp/dramatics. Sucher, Ashcom, and Calhoun are naturals at playing teenagers somewhere on the brink of maturity and immaturity. While Godwin has moments of solid acting - particularly in the final moments of the play - she largely gives a superficial performance of a concerned mother. Perhaps with better written material she would fare better. Sasser comes off cartoonish as the Brody's ER nurse neighbor and Sidenstricker gives an incredibly stilted performance as the patriarch. Yes, he's moderately effective when displaying a lot of anger, but any other time he's simply tasked with reciting lines it's like listening to someone read off a cue card while remembering blocking. Markey is fine in the small role of Officer Mason.
All in all there's something to work with in Blossom's creation, but more work is definitely needed if this is to have a future life.
Running Time: 65 minutes.
Dance of the Wasp and Spider played its final performance in this year's Capital Fringe on July 27, 2013.
Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe/Production.