BWW Review: POCATELLO - Defining a Family in Shifting Times
POCATELLO is a 2014 play from acclaimed playwright and MacArthur Fellow Samuel D. Hunter, that takes a darkly comedic look at the need for interaction and connection in an increasingly homogenized America. In a time when corporate stores are wiping out the uniqueness and the differences that separated one place from another, this play asks the possibly unanswerable question: "How did I get here"? Samuel D. Hunter's Idaho is the locale for this unflinching look into the changing landscape of middle America, and the flawed, yet real, people trying desperately to define what makes a home when you're standing on shifting ground. His play is naturalistic in nature, reminding one of the domestic dramas of Kansan William Inge. If you aren't sure of what this kind of place looks like, (since Austin still has it's mantra to "keep weird"), take a short drive up IH-35 to Temple and look around. I challenge you to find something that isn't a chain store.
Eddie (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) manages an Italian chain restaurant in Pocatello. Although it isn't called Olive Garden in the text of the play itself, we all know where salad and unlimited breadsticks come from. The problem is, it's a failing location and he's been notified by corporate that his location will soon be closing. An even bigger problem is the fact that Eddie hasn't told his employees yet. He is holding on to the lost hope that he can turn it around and change corporate minds. As this average American city is slowly being changed from unique businesses to a landscape of Starbucks, Best Buy and Applebee's, Eddie doesn't know where he is anymore. Unlike his brother Nick (Joel Gross), he doesn't want to cut and run. He wants his home town to feel like home again. Eddie has come up with the idea of "famigilia week" because he believes in not only the restaurant but in the town, and he refuses to give up on his home even as businesses close and friends and loved ones move on to life outside Pocatello.
The action of the play takes place entirely in this mostly deserted corporate restaurant. The lights come up to display two biological families onstage bickering. As the play opens, seated at one table is Eddie's older brother Nick, who has grudgingly returned to Pocatello for the first time in four years; his wife, Kelly (Molly Fonseca); and Eddie and Nick's widowed mother, Doris (Chris Humphrey). Mother is an emotionally distant and unpleasant woman who still lives in Pocatello but has little time for Eddie. She finds fault with everything, especially the restaurant being out of gluten free pasta. Part of Eddie's loneliness is due to the fact that he's gay, and after he came out, Doris became even more distant with no time for Eddie. At the other table sit Tammy (Amber Quick), Becky (Sydney Huddleston) and Cole (Ev Lunning, Jr.), the wife, daughter and father, respectively, of Troy (Jeremy Brown), one of the waiters. The waitstaff, includes Isabelle (Kayla Newman) and recovering meth-head Max (David Scott), who attempt in vain to do some damage control, but tensions at both tables terminates the meals abruptly.
Hunter's characters seem to all exist in desperation. In POCATELLO, the desperation is simultaneously personal, civic, and corporate. Eddie and the restaurant both seem to have a deadline hanging over them. Alrhough an unspoken comparison, Eddie doesn't want to end up like his father did when his diner failed and he took his life. There are a lot of unanswered questions POCATELLO brings up. Should an emp!oyee have loyalty to a company that has no loyalty to them? What constitutes a family? Is it your biological family, or a group you've chosen to be your family and what about the disparate group of people thrown together by work? Does that amount to a family of sorts? While these are never clearly answered, POCATELLO ends with a feeling of hope that eventually, healing can happen and people can move on.
Director Benjamin Summers has done a remarkable job directing this production that, thanks to the environmental setting, makes you, as an audience member, feel like you are sitting at the next table over, uncomfortable in over hearing such personal revelations from the strangers surrounding you. He has unearthed open and real performances from his entire ten member cast. The set design by Chris Conard and Zac Thomas is a nice recreation of a corporate box store eatery. Although no program credit existed for props, the props in this production are exceptional, especially the food and the requisite dirty dishes. Great attention to these kinds of details made the experience all the more realistic.
Carlo Lorenzo Garcia gives a beautifully open performance that makes us genuinely feel for him. This is a nice guy in a lot of pain who is desperately trying to fix the world around him. Joel Gross is wonderfully smarmy, judgmental and distant as brother Nick. What Nick literally did to save himself, his morther Doris did figuratively, which is to cut and run. It's also what Eddie's corporate bosses are doing. Chris Humphrey delivers a cantankerous and emotionally closed off mother to poor Eddie. When Molly Fonseca as Kelly, Nick's sweet and well meaning wife tells Eddie, "Maybe it's not worth fixing", we know she means the restaurant, but in Fonseca's delivery we can't help hearing that as a comment that also writes off the family, the city, and possibly the country, as well.
Jeremy Brown, as Troy, gives us the portrait of a man who is doing the best that he can in a crumbling economy in a dying town. As his alcoholic wife, Tammy, Amber Quick is a study of a woman pushed to the edge. She drinks to escape because her life hasn't turned out to be what she had envisioned. She has a angry environmentally conscious daughter, nicely played by Sydney Huddleston, who turns out to be the most sensible character in the play, and a father-in-law slipping into dementia after the failure of his local business. Ev Lunning, Jr. as Cole, has one of the funniest and most prescient lines of the evening when he says "lucidity is over rated." He turns in a lovely, touching and understated performance. David Scott as Max and Kayla Newman as Isabelle round out the cast nicely as employees of the restaurant. They serve nicely as the kinds of people who randomly come in and out of your life. You know the type. You've worked with them and they were a total pain in the ass.
In POCATELLO, Hunter seems to be showing the collateral damage from saving yourself at the expense of others, whether we're talking about National policymakers or who is sitting across the table from you. It's a fascinating look that is well worth your time in another superb production from Street Corner Arts.
POCATLLO by Samuel Hunter
Running Time: Approximately Two Hours, including intermission.
POCATELLO produced by Street Corner Arts at Hyde Park Theatre (511 West 43rd Street, Austin, TX, 78751).
Thursdays-Saturdays, December 01 - December 17, 2017 at 8 pm.
Tix Dec 1-14: $20, General Admission; $15 Educators + Students with ID
Final Fri-Sat Tix, December 15-16, $22 General Admission; $17 Educators + Students with ID