BWW Reviews: LAST OF THE WHYOS Buds at Spooky Action Theater
We all have moments when we want to escape something, whether it be who we are, where we are, or what we're doing. And in these moments, we often look for a way to cope. To change things. Do we alter our identities? Search for a new career? Find faith?
This is just one of the questions that Spooky Action Theater's world premiere of Last of the Whyos asks audiences to ponder. Written by Barbara Wiechmann and directed by Rebecca Holderness, Last of the Whyos takes audiences on a journey through time and on a search for self.
At the beginning of the play, we are introduced to the volatile Eddie Farrell (Michael Kevin Darnall), king of the violent Irish Whyos gang in 1880s New York. After seeing visions of his future, Eddie quits the gang and tries to start a new life. However, his boss, Sweeney, (Randolph Curtis Rand) demands Eddie complete "one last job," which prompts Eddie into his hallucinated future: Coney Island in the 1980s. Eddie is angry, confused, and troubled as he enters a sideshow world and confronts his future self and energies long held in check.
Though it seems one of Last of the Whyos' goals is to pause and explore themes and emotions, the play struggles to keep moving forward with the plot. The characters also feel distant from the audience for the majority of the play. Whether this aspect of the production is purposeful or not, you may have to push yourself to engage with the characters. In general, though, the actors and actresses do carry their roles well. Michael Kevin Darnall captures a terrifying and violent Eddie; Tia Shearer excels as the ravaged Hot Corn Girl and the lost Ada Ann; Seamus Miller, the seemingly pedophilic lawyer, is incredibly creepy as we try to determine his intentions; and Dane Figueroa Edidi provides comic relief as the 400 pound fat woman, Lolly.
One of the best aspects of the production is Rebecca Holderness' direction when the characters' stories occur at the same time. Holderness effectively uses the entire stage, creating layers that become hauntingly mechanical and repetitive. However, at other times during the play, the blocking seems to add to the overarching disengagement with the characters. As a character speaks, we may only see their back or the edge of their face; this blocking can work if it has motivation, but whether this placement has purpose is unclear.
As for the set, designer Vicki Davis creatively maximizes Spooky Action Theater's small performing space. The multi-level "dock" allows the actors and actresses to use the space above and below the platform. Even more, Davis divides the stage into sections that simultaneously separates and unites each character's world.
The play also utilizes video projections. These projections, such as the waves crashing against the pier, help create the desolate and lost atmosphere that the characters experience. Another video projection - a girl jumping up and down - is also used throughout the play. This video is eerie and intriguing, but its' connection to the story is uncertain.
Overall, Last of the Whyos is a budding production with room for improvement. The story and performance could be more concise and convey clearer motivations for artistic decisions, but the play has great potential for growth as a new production.
Last of the Whyos plays at Spooky Action Theater (1810 16th St NW Washington, DC 20009) through March 1, 2015.
Running Time: 2.5 hours with one ten-minute intermission
Photo credit: K-Town Studios
From This Author Emma Kouguell