BWW Review: STARTER PISTOL at UD Rep Ensemble
For 11 years The Resident Ensemble Players of UD has produced plays of global renown. The majority of the actors have been there since the inception. Aisle Say has been privileged to attend most of them. Generally, the classics are performed; Shakespeare, Shaw, August Wilson, Alan Ayckbourn, Moliere, Tennessee Williams and the like.
Last year Producing Artistic Director Sandy Robbins - himself a recipient of the prestigious John Houseman Award - decided to stage a play by one of his own brilliant actors, Michael Gotch. MINOR FASTASTICAL KINGDOMS (renamed TINY HOUSE) proved to have legs and will be staged this summer at the Westport (CT) Country Playhouse with Rep's original cast.
Gotch's second play (perhaps part of a trilogy) was granted a place this season. Robbins states in the program that new plays are the lifeblood of a vibrant theatre and that is important for Rep to introduce audience to the work of new writers.
STARTER PISTOL is billed as a darker look at middle America. Set in a dying Midwestern town, the mother Karen James (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) attempts to keep herself and her family above water, caring for a self-absorbed, mean-spirited husband Griff (Stephen Pilenski) who is incapacitated by a work injury. Her only solace is her private talks with Walter, a massive stuffed, multi-antlered buck peering down from the wall. She laments, "He's the only one that listens to me."
UD Rep's sets are consistently stunning. Scenic Designer Hugh Landwehr has created a living room one can imagine in a run-down trailer park. The refrigerator was vintage Americana, the shabby couch that one sees at Goodwill and, of course, Walter. Costumes by Tricia Barsamian follow the same tattered, threadbare theme. (That's a good thing of course).
Aisle Say has the utmost admiration for everything Rep does. I simply do not feel the play is up to the demanding standards of previous seasons. Gotch attempts to speak to a smorgasbord of themes and offers few clarifying links: poverty, sibling rivalries, racism, gun violence and 2nd amendment issues, the morality of hunting wild animals and leaving the surviving cubs to fend for themselves.
None of the characters were particularly charming. Karen states the entire family "is constantly trying to triage multiple issues". That is my feeling about the entire plot and characters. It is too much to absorb. Some playwrights work to resolve issues. Some, like Gotch in this production, leaves too much unanswered, perhaps wishing the audience to question or resolve on their own.
The family attempts to survive in an increasingly cold world. My problem is that I never embraced any of them.
Next Up: THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller March 5
UD REP Ensemble 302.831.2204