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Good Selection: Natural Selection at Single Carrot

Well, now I know what the excitement is all about. Word of Single Carrot Theatre has been filtering through the Baltimore theater scene since Single Carrot's arrival three years ago. Finally, it was my turn to see the new local enfants terribles, presenting Natural Selection (2006), by Eric Coble, a play which is sort of an enfant terrible in his own right. Rarely am I heard to say that hype was justified; this occasion is an exception.

These youngsters are extraordinary in every way. Watching them, I'm reminded of the experience of getting to know the Not Ready for Prime Time Players in those first amazing couple of seasons of Saturday Night Live. The Carrots are smart, they are trained, they can act, they can do sketch comedy, and they exude an attitude of iconoclastic enthusiasm that cannot be faked. The sold-out house was testament to their new-found and deserved popularity.

The play itself is at once a hoot and a cautionary tale. Set in the near future in which most of the land outside the cities has been rendered uninhabitable, except for corporately-controlled theme parks, it follows the travails of Henry Carson (Christopher Rutherford), a corporate lackey employed by Culture Fiesta (one of the theme parks, situated in Florida), as he witnesses and unwittingly helps usher in the end of Life As We Know It. Henry has been detailed by his boss Yolanda Pastiche (Lyndsay Webb) to sortie out into the countryside of New Mexico and retrieve a Native American, preferably Navajo, to staff the Native American Tribal Pavilion. Accompanying him on this perilous helicopter safari is blowhard adventurer Ernie Hardaway (Elliott Rauh) and daredevil pilot Penelope (also Lyndsay Webb), as they sally forth to shoot a Native American with a tranquilizer dart, tie him up, and deliver him to the powers that run Culture Fiesta. His wife Suzie (Jessica Garrett), who works for Wal-Mart and blogs obsessively, is terrified that he will never return from such a hostile and alien environment. The would-be Native American they retrieve, one Zhao Martinez (Aldo Pantoja) is, as his name implies, not quite what they were expecting.

That's the setup. It carries on from there, along general lines that might be anticipated by those familiar with the fact that playwright Coble, in real life, was raised on Navajo and Ute reservations in New Mexico and Colorado - and that Henry Carson, in the fiction of the play, is a descendant of genocidist Kit Carson, in line for some karmic payback. The details, though, could not possibly be predicted in advance, since the play might best be described as an apocalyptic shaggy dog story.

Suffice it to say that the thunder grows louder and louder as the end of the play draws nigh, the inhabitants of the various pavilions get loose and intermingle, and Florida seems to be readying itself to return to swampland. I don't want to spoil laughs by giving anything else away. I can say that Coble has a killer ear for specialized dialogue (adventurer braggadocio, corporate supervisor-speak, chopper jock tough-talk, and über-Mommy obsessiveness, among others), and the Carrots know how to burrow into character and serve up every delicious line just right.

So there it is, a relatively simple review. Great show, great performers, hot new company. Go see.


Natural Selection, by Eric Coble, through October 31, at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201. Tickets $10., 443-844-9253. Adult language.




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